"Here in CLA, regardless of major, we were curious, creative, and persistent"

Ian Zukor's Undergraduate Commencement Speech
Ian Zukor delivering his commencement remarks

When I walked onto the campus of the University of Vermont for my first day of college freshman year, I certainly did not see myself here four years later, giving a commencement speech in Minneapolis. It may seem funny having a transfer student as a speaker, but I am far from the only person in here who is not where they expected to be four years on from college. Especially given that we entered college at one of the most unique times in history. And I feel confident saying that having received my degree in history! In fact, for many if not most of us, this is our first, normally functioning graduation. Ironically, I was meant to have my high school graduation here at Mariucci where I had been selected to speak. Here I am four years later.

Having gone to another college, I learned quickly that the University of Minnesota is no ordinary school. It is an exceptional, transformative institution that we should be proud to have attended. Here in the College of Liberal Arts, regardless of major, we were curious, creative, and persistent. We learned a tremendous amount in classrooms, but perhaps just as much outside of classrooms. We learned to grow more independent, understand new perspectives, and make our voices heard. We also spent loads of money on coffee or Celcius, attended the first meetings of a few clubs just for free food, and cheered our heads off every time we beat Wisconsin and Iowa. 

But these skills we have acquired are more than just to get us through college. They extend into whatever lies ahead. We now have a strong foundation as we embark on our respective paths. It is now our responsibility to continue building upon it. To continue to be bold in our pursuits, be compassionate in our interactions, and question the status quo. 

For me, that will take shape as I enter the world of teaching social studies. For others in this arena, it will be as anthropologists, artists, and astrophysics. When else will you be able to say that you had all those things in the same room? In addition to an incredible variety of people at the U of M, we also have an amazing variety of spaces. 

From the silent sub-basement of Wilson Library to the roar of 50000 people in Huntington Bank Stadium there is such a variety of spaces on this campus that contributed to the last four years. Remember those places as more than buildings, but as the places where you nailed an exam, did your first lab, decided to go abroad, cried tears (both of frustration and joy), and met some of your best friends. 

Beyond the amazing buildings on campus, I have to mention the world’s greatest and most golden gopher, Goldy, who was there the whole way. More than Goldy we had wonderful parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts and uncles, professors, counselors, friends, and more helping us get here. There is no doubt this was a team effort and their commitment to helping us should be acknowledged. They helped us navigate extreme turbulence at the start of our college experience and it has paid great dividends. It would have been so much easier to take a break, lose hope, or just fold, but in the face of adversity, we continued to push for our futures together. 

As we move from eating ramen noodles and getting around on electric scooters to exploring the professional world, take forth with you the lessons learned in that difficult period and embrace future uncertainties. After all, look at where our past uncertainty got us. 

Understand that this is not only the end of a journey, but also a start. We are at the crossroads of past accomplishments and future possibilities. We will spread out all over the world, armed with the skills to make real change. Whether you are going back to school, entering the workforce, or still figuring things out, hold dear all you accomplished in maroon and gold and expand your legacy with passion, grace, and intent. There are unquestionably challenges that lie ahead but you’ve already shown you can handle anything- like a pandemic, countless late nights…and getting around loads of turkeys around campus.

Class of 2024 CLA graduates, I extend a huge congratulations to you and may you go forth to find tremendous success. Make a positive difference in this world and help shape the future. Ski-U-Mah and go Gophers! 

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