Susan M. Swearer encouraged the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s August graduates to embrace a “yes” mindset to create opportunities.
Swearer, Willa Cather Professor and chair of the Department of Educational Psychology at Nebraska, delivered the address “The Transformative Power of Saying Yes” during the combined graduate and undergraduate commencement ceremony Aug. 13 at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
She emphasized that saying “yes” has opened many doors in her career and life, from earning master’s and doctoral degrees to joining the Husker faculty to becoming an expert in bullying, peer victimization and mental health difficulties.
“Think about the opportunities that you are given and even if you don’t feel qualified or you feel afraid of something new, you never know where the transformative power of saying ‘yes’ will lead you,” said Swearer, a licensed psychologist, co-director of the Bullying Research Network and director of the Nebraska Bullying Prevention and Intervention Initiative.
Swearer told the graduates to be open to opportunities.
“Recognize that you might not know what you want to do, and that’s OK,” she said. “You might feel insecure or unsure of yourself, but that’s OK too.”
Swearer said when she was a grad student at the University of Texas at Austin, she told herself she would never become a faculty member. She wanted to open a private practice working with children, adolescents and their families. But, while working as a therapist at a children’s hospital in Dallas, she took the advice of her faculty adviser and applied for a job at Nebraska. She said Lincoln has proven a great place to grow personally and professionally and raise a family, and that she wouldn’t change where she is for anything.
“I hope that saying ‘yes’ to different experiences and opportunities will help you carve out your path for building the life, the career and the connections that you want,” she said. “I do know that saying ‘no’ won’t open many doors. I’m very thoughtful about what I say ‘no’ to — because I know that saying ‘no’ limits opportunities.”
Swearer said that too often people are only focused on the end result and miss out on the journey. She said the daily journey is what matters.
Swearer recalled how saying “yes” to an invitation from a Husker doctoral graduate early in her career led to her work with Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation. In 2013, she went on tour with the pop star and her foundation on the Born Brave Bus, a youth empowerment experience.
“This collaboration has meant that research has informed the foundation’s work, and they have impacted hundreds of thousands of lives across the globe with their programs,” she said. “Saying ‘yes’ helped create unique partnerships and propelled research on bullying and victimization into the mainstream.”
Swearer’s involvement with the foundation led to work with the National Guard, training service members to implement a bullying prevention program in schools across the United States, and with Paul Mitchell Schools, training hairstylists and cosmetologists to help clients who might be bullied or whose children might be bullied.
“Saying ‘yes’ to nontraditional opportunities opened doors to making research on bullying and victimization accessible to laypeople and broke down barriers between academic research and the real world,” she said.
Swearer told the graduates that when life is difficult, it’s hard to say “yes,” but perhaps that’s the best time to do so.
“In your LAUNL (Life After UNL), you won’t know what opportunities will arise or where your life will take you,” she said. “If you risk getting out of your comfort zone and embrace a ‘yes’ mindset, you will open opportunities that you might never have known existed.”
Chancellor Ronnie Green presided over the commencement ceremony, during which graduates who were unable to attend their ceremonies due to the COVID-19 pandemic were also celebrated. Four returned to cross the stage in front of family and friends.
“We are proud of our graduates’ accomplishments and thankful for your contributions,” Green said. “You have raised our level of critical thinking and creative activity as a world-leading institution of higher learning, adding to the legacy of the people who have earned their advanced degrees and undergraduate degrees at Nebraska.”
The chancellor noted that more students have graduated from the university in the past three years than at any point in school history.
The university conferred 632 degrees during the August commencement ceremony. The 626 graduates are from 34 countries, 39 states and more than 70 Nebraska communities.
The August graduating class earned three new Juris Doctor degrees, 375 other new graduate and professional degrees and 254 new baccalaureate degrees. The university has awarded 311,245 degrees since it was founded in 1869.