Ready to make footprints: Nearly 1,500 Huskers earn degrees
Milliken awarded Cather Medal; Combs encourages graduates to spread good
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln conferred 1,505 degrees during commencement exercises Dec. 15 and 16 at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
The 1,488 graduates are from 41 countries, 40 states and Puerto Rico, and more than 160 Nebraska communities.
Bob Whitehouse, chairman of the NU Board of Regents, offered some remarks to the graduates during the bachelor-degree ceremony Dec. 16.
"You are now in a position to begin very successful careers. You can improve the lives of your families and certainly give back to your communities," he said. "I commend each of you for making the decision to pursue higher education. That's a decision that will pay off for the rest of your lives, no matter what direction you choose to go."
James B. Milliken, former president of the University of Nebraska system and chancellor of The City University of New York, was awarded Nebraska's prestigious Cather Medal during the undergraduate ceremony. Named after Nebraska alumna and author Willa Cather, the award is given to individuals whose words and actions uphold the highest values of humanity and service to the world. Previous recipients include Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Mikhail Gorbachev, Sandra Day O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Milliken was NU system president from 2004 to 2014. He also held faculty appointments in the Nebraska College of Law and the University of Nebraska at Omaha School of Public Administration. During his tenure, the university system broadened access to low-income students, increased research funding and, with the help of a successful $1.8 billion capital campaign, expanded each campus with new land, facilities, programs and university-wide institutes. A national leader in higher education, Milliken is a member of the Executive Committee of the Council on Competitiveness, the Council on Foreign Relations and the Economic Club of New York. The Fremont native is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Nebraska, where he was a member of the Innocents Society and Mortar Board.
Due to travel complications, Milliken was unable to attend the ceremony. His son, Caleb, who earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Nebraska Dec. 16, accepted the award on his behalf.
Gwendolyn M. Combs, associate professor of management in the College of Business, delivered the address "Your Footprint in a Wonderful World" during the graduate and professional degrees ceremony Dec. 15.
The speech centered on Louis Armstrong's 1967 hit "What a Wonderful World." Combs noted that the song was written during a turbulent time, but that it describes the beauty of nature and life and carries a message of hope and possibility. She said that although the world is wonderful intrinsically, everyone must bear the responsibility of preserving that wonder and giving it room to flourish.
"Often we underestimate our capacity to bring good into the world and to change the world in significant ways, yet I believe we have everything necessary to shine our light," she said.
Combs told the graduates that leaving a tangible footprint doesn't require great wealth or Einstein's genius, but three Ds: desire, drive and determination.
She encouraged the graduates to use their knowledge and skills to reach back, reach down and reach out.
"In planning and executing your life's purpose, take the time and make the effort to bring others alongside you who are struggling to perceive their potential," she said. "I ask you to reach down and extend a hand to others whose aspirations are so low that they cannot envision their footprints adding beauty to this wonderful world. I encourage you to reach out and pull others into your circle so that they can see your successes and begin to imagine what success can look like for them in their lives."
Combs closed her address by urging the graduates to make their corners of the world "better, richer and more humane."
"The rich and beautiful good that you create, it moves with you," she said. "And if you are fortunate enough, you will observe spiraling around you the domino effect of your enduring footprint."
Chancellor Ronnie Green presided over the commencement ceremonies.
The December graduating class earned 326 new graduate and professional degrees and 1,179 new baccalaureate degrees. The university has awarded 283,881 degrees since it was founded in 1869.