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Midland University bid farewell to its graduating class on Saturday, sending the cohort of hundreds of students off with inspiring messages of how to thrive in a rapidly changing world.

At Midland University’s Commencement Ceremony, hundreds of undergraduate students from Midland’s six schools received their degrees, alongside 19 masters students across three disciplines.

But according to Midland University President Jody Horner, the class of 2019 is setting out in the world with more than the knowledge that they learned in their classes — they’re also taking skills to become “continuous learners,” able to adapt to the changing needs of the 21st-century workforce.

She cited a quote from American philosopher Eric Hoffer: “In times of change, the learners shall inherit the earth while the knowers, previously successful, will find themselves perfectly equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”

By learning skills like collaboration, problem-solving and leadership, Horner argued, the graduates were prepared to tackling their futures, regardless of how their industries evolve.

“Today is the beginning of the rest of your life. But today also marks the beginning of how you will take forward with you the skills that you have learned here at Midland,” Horner said.

Among the students graduating on Saturday was Taylor Schafer, who spoke at the commencement ceremony representing the seven graduate students making up the inaugural class of graduates from Midland’s new athletic training master’s program.

She urged her fellow students to follow their passions.

“We do not do what we do simply for ourselves, we do what we do simply for what we can do for others, and in the end, that’s what matters,” she said.

Representing the undergraduate class during the commencement ceremony was Weston Shepard, who was graduating from the Dunklau School of Business with a degree in business administration. He’ll be pursuing a career as a certified public accountant at Seim Johnson, a firm in Omaha. He’s also getting married next weekend.

For his commencement speech, Shepard spoke about his shift from playing on the Midland basketball team to becoming an assistant coach.

“Even though my role as a player had come to an end, my purpose did not change. My purpose as a player was to glorify God with my talents and ability and to serve and love others. My purpose as a coach was still to glorify God with my talents and my ability and to serve and love others,” Shepard said. “So whether you believe in God or not, the point is to find the source of your purpose and let that guide your thoughts and actions. The cool thing is that now as a future accountant, a future spouse and a future parent God willing, my purpose still has not changed.”

Shepard also told his fellow students that it was time “to go into the world inspired by our coaches, professors and awesome new friends and be leaders.”

He told the story of Colton Humphrey, a 12-year-old who’d been drafted as part of the Midland basketball team, and one of Shepard’s personal inspirations.

Humphrey had suffered a stroke at birth and doctors believed he would live only 18 months and never be able to walk. But Humphrey has lived, surviving 50 surgeries in 12 years.

“Just over a week ago, I watched my teammate Colton walk into a team dinner all on his own,” Shepard said. “Earlier this year, students were asked, what does it mean to be a Warrior, and what is the Warrior spirit? I think Colton embodies this Warrior spirit. He has a fire in him to never ever give up.”

Shepard was also awarded Midland’s John R. Prauner Senior Award, given to a senior who “exemplifies scholarship and citizenship.”

This year’s official commencement speaker was John Clifton, the Global Managing Partner at Gallup, which is known for its big data analytics. Gallup assesses the needs of 7 billion citizens across the world by polling them on metrics such as happiness, financial inclusion and more. The Gallup World Poll, as its called, is a 100-year initiative spanning 150 countries.

Clifton urged the Class of 2019 to focus on identifying their strengths and cultivating them, rather than trying to correct their weaknesses.

He explained that in its polling, Gallup asks the question, “Do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day?” Clifton said that 70 percent of respondents answer “no.”

“I think it’s happening for one reason: because people are trying to fix what’s wrong with them and not working on what’s right with them,” Clifton said.

Focusing on your strengths is key to being able to change the world, Clifton added.

“We need to identify our strengths, we need to develop our strengths, we need to use our strengths and we need to master them, because if we do, we change the world,” he said. “But if we work on what’s wrong with us, we’ll miss our opportunity to change the world.”

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