U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer told the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s December graduates to chase their ambitions, be unafraid of failure, stay humble and embrace opportunities.
The Husker alumna delivered the keynote address during the undergraduate commencement ceremony Dec. 17 at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Fischer, the senior senator from Nebraska, told graduates to consider their dreams and passions and chart a course toward them. She noted that there is no perfect answer and that passions might change over time, but what matters is that the graduates never stop challenging themselves to find purpose and fulfillment.
“Each of us has a calling,” she said. “And sitting here today, you may not know what your calling is right now. But I promise you — if you have the courage to listen, one day you will hear it. And you will feel it in your core.”
Fischer, who serves on the Armed Services, Commerce, Agriculture, Rules and Ethics committees, urged the graduates to not be afraid of failure. She shared one of her favorite sayings: “Life’s tough — get a helmet.”
“No one is saying it’s easy,” she said. “But your capacity to weather those storms and bounce back, that’s critical. Because if you let fear of failure guide you, it’ll weigh you down and you will not be able to fly.”
Fischer said that too often it’s easy to settle into routines because they are comfortable and easy.
“Resist that temptation,” she said.
Fischer, the top Republican on the Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, said that whatever the graduates pursue or wherever life takes them, they should remain humble. Everyone has something to offer, she said.
“No matter where you are in life, treat everyone — everyone — with dignity and respect,” she said. “We never know where someone is in their life’s journey or what they may be facing that day.”
Fischer said when she meets with students from Nebraska, she is often asked for advice.
“My response is this: If you work hard, if you do what you love, opportunities will present themselves, you will be happy, and you will be successful,” she said. “So say ‘yes’ to those opportunities.”
Katrina Jagodinsky, Susan J. Rosowski Associate Professor of history at Nebraska, gave the address “Stay Ready: Lifelong Learning and Excellence at UNL and Beyond” during the graduate and professional degree ceremony Dec. 16 at the arena.
Jagodinsky, whose research focuses on ordinary people’s engagement and interactions with the law, offered the graduates advice on how to prepare for unexpected opportunities to serve, learn and grow.
First, she encouraged the graduates to seek new and diverse perspectives, which often requires people to build an inclusive community of friends and colleagues. Seeking out such perspectives allows people to think more critically, creatively and compassionately to develop solutions to local and global problems, she said.
“Put more bluntly: Diversity makes us smarter,” she said. “And so staying ready for lifelong learning and excellence requires us to seek those new and diverse perspectives in our day-to-day lives.”
Jagodinsky told the graduates that they should take risks and prepare to fail in order to grow. She said often the drive to achieve comes from a desire to succeed and please others, but this need can be limiting, discouraging innovation and leading people to recycle familiar ideas and practices.
“Occasional failure means you’ve pushed yourself to new limits, that you’re testing new strategies and that you’re avoiding complacency to pursue excellence,” she said.
Jagodinsky urged the graduates to ask “why” every day to avoid losing sight of their personal and professional missions.
“Whether you are at work on a daily goal or a lifetime achievement, a personal or global mission, remembering your ‘why’ will keep you focused and energized over the long term,” she said. “Asking ourselves ‘why’ is important, and so is asking ‘why’ of our organizations, institutions and associations.”
Finally, Jagodinsky told the graduates to say “yes” when it serves their “why.” Knowing how and when to say “yes” and “no” is a crucial step in realizing one’s potential and recognizing one’s value, she said.
“When you evaluate requests for your time and expertise, consider saying ‘yes’ when it serves your ‘why’ …” she said. “But if you can’t connect that request to your ‘why,’ recognize it as someone else’s opportunity and consider nominating a colleague or friend who is able to say ‘yes’ when you need to decline.”
Jagodinsky closed her address by telling the graduates to savor their achievement but not let it be the conclusion of their story.
“Be ready to surprise yourself,” she said. “Seeking new and diverse perspectives ensures you continue to grow; taking risks and preparing to fail delivers unexpected opportunities; asking ‘why’ and knowing when to say ‘yes’ will help you stay focused and productive.”
Chancellor Ronnie Green presided over the commencement ceremonies.
“To each of our graduates: We are proud of your accomplishments and thankful for your contributions,” he 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 at Nebraska.”
The university conferred 1,288 degrees during the ceremonies. The 1,262 graduates are from 50 countries, 41 states and more than 170 Nebraska communities.
The December graduating class earned seven new Juris Doctor degrees, 327 other new graduate and professional degrees and 954 new baccalaureate degrees. The university has awarded 312,533 degrees since it was founded in 1869.