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Gov. Burgum touts need for change in NDSU commencement address

North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum does a live Snapchat video as NDSU President Dean Bresciani flashes the Bison horns during the afternoon commencement address at graduation ceremonies from the Fargodome on Saturday, May 13, 2017. (David Samson / The Forum)1 / 2
Many graduating North Dakota State University students displayed messages on their caps like this one during ceremonies at the fargodome on Saturday, May 13, 2017. (David Samson / The Forum)2 / 2

FARGO—Gov. Doug Burgum wished North Dakota State University spring graduates here well in a commencement speech that focused on technology and change, and acknowledged the deep budget cuts made recently to the state's university system.

Burgum spoke at both morning and afternoon NDSU graduation ceremonies on Saturday, May 13, staged at the Fargodome.

The 15-minute address began with nods to the university from which Burgum graduated in 1978. He mentioned his family's long standing ties to the school, including his grandmother, Jessamine Slaughter Burgum, the first woman to enroll there when it was known as North Dakota Agricultural College. Burgum Hall on the NDSU campus is named in her honor. The Katherine Kilbourne Burgum Family Life Center is named after the governor's mother, who was dean of the College of Home Economics.

The governor's address quickly turned to technology and how the pace of digital advancement will affect everyone. To demonstrate, Burgum paused at the podium to capture a 10-second video of the graduates on his phone, and sent it off in through his Snapchat account.

In the past, the governor has spoken of how higher education should embrace advances in communications technology, including online access to course offerings.

In perhaps a nod to that, Burgum said change, driven by technology, is inevitable.

"No organization, regardless of its prior longevity, nor its traditions, nor its power base, will be immune to the forces of change," he said.

He told the graduates they're entering a world of perpetual disruption, fueled by the digital revolution. He said that disruption can be feared or embraced.

"When it's embraced, it becomes an opportunity to reinvent ourselves, our institutions and our surroundings," the governor said.

Burgum also referred to the steep state budget cuts, including to higher education, made due to a revenue slump brought on by lower oil and crop prices. He said the adjustments were unprecedented.

"Nothing seen like that since the Great Depression," Burgum said; however, spending had to be brought back in line with revenues.

During the final day of the legislative session in April, lawmakers decided NDSU would receive almost 18 percent less state money for its operating budget in the two-year budget cycle starting in July than it did for the previous two years.

The higher education funding bill approved provides general fund support of $129.1 million for NDSU in 2017-19, a decrease of 17.9 percent from the $157.4 million appropriation for 2015-17.

While it has been and will be a difficult adjustment for the university system, Burgum said the state's commitment to higher education remains "incredibly strong."

For fiscal years 2017-19, nearly half of the state's general fund, more than $2.1 billion, will go toward K-12 and higher education in North Dakota, Burgum said.

In conclusion, Burgum challenged the graduates to be curious and courageous, saying those attributes will bring success in the future.

"Courage to challenge the status quo, courage to challenge existing power structures because sometimes these power structures exist only to defend themselves and their past, rather than participating in reinventing themselves to define and create our collective future," he said.

Prior to the ceremony, NDSU indicated there were 2,251 students eligible for spring commencement, and that a total of 1,420 graduate, professional and undergraduate students would take part.

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