While UND graduates took to the stage Saturday, May 11, three others received a degree of a different sort.

Former U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, actor Josh Duhamel and aviation legend Clay Lacy received honorary doctorate degrees Saturday. Honorary degrees are a longstanding tradition at UND and have been awarded more than 200 times to people who have made an impact on UND and the state of North Dakota.

Speaking to the media before Saturday’s award presentation, Duhamel said the award came as a surprise.

“This is a huge honor,” he said. “It wasn’t something I was expecting nor was I very comfortable with it when they first asked -- not because I wasn’t flattered by it but I just think that any time somebody wants to do something like that you feel like ‘Well, I don’t really deserve that.’”

Duhamel said once he learned the State Board of Higher Education voted on it, he knew he couldn’t say no.

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“It was a chance for me to come back and thank this state, this university,” Duhamel said.

While Duhamel attended Minot State University and played quarterback for the football team, he still came to visit friends at UND when he was in college and remains friends with people in the area.

Duhamel, who is now an ambassador for North Dakota and does work to promote tourism in the state, said he was fortunate to grow up in North Dakota and loves his home state.

Duhamel also addressed students during the undergraduate ceremony Saturday afternoon.

Duhamel challenged graduates to do something that “scares the crap out of you” because they’ll be glad they did it.

“Those are opportunities for growth and you’ll be happy you did it,” he said. “Don’t play it safe. Go for it, because if you do you can do things you possibly could never have imagined.”

Actor Josh Duhamel shoots a selfie with Michelle Garske, left, and Kate Menzies from the UND College of Business and Public Administration Saturday. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
Actor Josh Duhamel shoots a selfie with Michelle Garske, left, and Kate Menzies from the UND College of Business and Public Administration Saturday. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks HeraldEric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Heitkamp addresses graduates

Heitkamp addressed graduate students Saturday morning before receiving her honorary degree.

Heitkamp asked graduates to take time to reflect on what they’ve accomplished during their time at UND and to think about the people who were there for them, no matter what.

“Your family will always be there unconditionally for you,” she said. “They are the source and strength of your life and you should never take them for granted.”

In addition to her family, Heitkamp said she defines herself by her curiosity and her ability to reason, which has helped her understand different perspectives during her life.

“Be curious in your life,” she said, adding she has learned a lot just from being curious. “That joy of learning I got right here at UND. The ability to think and think critically and reason, right here at the University of North Dakota.”

Former Sen. Heidi Heitkamp is presented an honorary doctorate from UND during the graduate commencement ceremony Saturday morning. (Sydney Mook/Grand Forks Herald)
Former Sen. Heidi Heitkamp is presented an honorary doctorate from UND during the graduate commencement ceremony Saturday morning. (Sydney Mook/Grand Forks Herald)(Sydney Mook/Grand Forks Herald)



Heitkamp also spoke about her “failures” and the way those moments have impacted her life.

“I’m a failure,” she said. “I tried to run for governor, didn’t get elected. I didn’t get reelected to the United States Senate. But those failures have made me resilient and they have opened up more opportunities than I could possibly tell you.”

Heitkamp told graduates that they should “risk big” for everything they do “because the rewards are big.”

“You will not achieve great things if you’re not willing to risk yourself and your reputation for the things that you believe in and the ideals you share with this institution and with this country,” she said.

Clay Lacy, legendary pilot and a member of the UND Aerospace Foundation Board, also received his honorary degree from UND Saturday morning, but did not address students.