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Resiliency is key to world improvement, Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack tells UM Crookston graduates

Tom Vilsack, the 32nd U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, was the keynote speaker at University of Minnesota Crookston's commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 7, 2022.

A man wearing a black and maroon robe stands at a University of Minnesota Crookston podium.
Tom Vilsack spoke at the University of Minnesota Crookston graduation on May 7, 2022.
Trevor Peterson / Agweek
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CROOKSTON, Minn. — The determination that the 2022 University of Minnesota graduating class demonstrated by persevering to earn their degrees during challenging times that included a global pandemic and war in Ukraine illustrates their capacity to strengthen the world of agriculture and beyond, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said at UMC’s commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 7.

Vilsack, the 32nd Secretary of Agriculture, was the keynote speaker at UMC’s commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 7, 2022.

The May 7 graduation ceremony was the 114th at the university, which was launched in 1906 as an agricultural high school.

The high school, which taught students about agriculture and homemaking, in 1968 evolved into a technical institute which conferred degrees in agriculture, business and general studies on its graduates.

In 2001, UMC awarded its first online bachelor’s degree, and now students can earn bachelor’s degrees from its departments of humanities, social sciences and education; business; math, science and technology and agricultural and natural resources.

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More than 500 students who earned their degrees in fall 2021 and spring, and will earn them in summer and fall 2022 were candidates for graduation at the commencement ceremony.

Staying resilient will be one of the keys to the 2022 graduates’ future success and their ability to make a positive impact, Vilsack said.

“Given the challenge that we face today all over the world — the COVID variants, inflation, the supply chain challenge, climate change, and yes, the unprovoked invasion of a free and democratic nation, among others, I really think that this speech needs to focus on what it takes to be resilient ” Vilsack said. “Because I believe that to meet the challenges of tomorrow, you're going to have to be resilient.”

True resilience, whether it's in a person, a community or a nation, requires a belief and faith in something better and the confidence and capacity to make it happen, Vilsack said

Survivors — whether they are people with physical disabilities or serious illnesses, the result of natural disasters in communities or a nation that is faced with an unrelenting enemy — live to overcome and to battle because they believe in, and have a faith in, the capacity that they have to make a better day ahead, he said.

“No doubt you all have faced adversity in your life, likely multiple times … The good news is that having gone through what you’ve gone through to get to this day, today, you have the capacity and skill to make a better day happen.

“I see you and I believe — as America's resilient generation, a generation that has the capacity to make America stronger and more resilient, as a result of your experience, your knowledge, your education, and the capacity — you have developed growing up in a time of great disruption,” he said.

One of the ways graduates can contribute to a stronger and more resilient America is through public service opportunities, such as working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Vilsack said, prefacing that part of his speech with a laugh and cautionary statement that it was a “shameless” pitch for the agency.

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Only 7% of USDA’s workforce is under age 35, which means that there are opportunities for jobs and rapid advancement in the agency, Vilsack said. Meanwhile, students have the opportunity to choose to work in one of 29 USDA agencies with eight different missions.

Opportunities available in USDA include transforming the food system, marketing U.S. products around the world, and guarding the nation’s food supply, Vilsack said: “You can do any and all of that in the U.S. Agriculture Department.”

Whether graduates choose to work in public service or in the private sector, it's important that they adopt a mentality of service, Vilsack said.

“That means, whatever you do, think about how that single act or the summation of all of those acts may prove beneficial to the greater good. From those small daily acts to the larger life decisions people face, look for ways to serve,” he said.

Ann is a journalism veteran with nearly 40 years of reporting and editing experiences on a variety of topics including agriculture and business. Story ideas or questions can be sent to Ann by email at: abailey@agweek.com or phone at: 218-779-8093.
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