UNL’s Commencement To Include Familiar Face

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April 23, 2020 - 12:50pm

College campuses across Nebraska are planning to conduct commencement ceremonies while dealing with the coronavirus pandemic and social distancing. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln will hold a virtual ceremony in two weeks that will be live-streamed and include each graduate’s name. And the commencement speaker is a familiar face to Husker fans.


Nebraska head volleyball coach John Cook is used to being in front of large crowds. His team plays in front of nearly 8,000 fans every home game. He’s given speeches in front of big audiences too. But when UNL chancellor Ronnie Green asked him to give the commencement speech for Nebraska graduates this spring, he told Green:

“I’ll think about that.” And I thought about it,” Cook said. It’s an honor to do it. Now, it's going to be challenging with everything going on with actually no technical graduation.”

It wasn’t that Cook didn’t want to give the speech, he just wondered who would want to listen to a volleyball coach give a commencement speech. He’s since warmed to the idea.

“I think it's one of the greatest honors that I've ever been asked to do,” Cook said. “When I graduated from college with a big deal it was in my family and I can still remember like it was yesterday.”

Cook will be delivering the speech via Zoom from the living room of his house in Lincoln. He was surprised to find out from Green that he wouldn’t be giving just one speech.

“Another thing he told me was he say, ‘you know you’ve got to give two…’ and I said, ‘what do you mean you got to give two?’ he said, ‘well our graduation so big now that we actually do two sessions,’” Cook said.

Cook said his most important message to the graduates will be to take a step back and take it all in. He said while they may not be walking across the stage like most graduates, it doesn’t diminish their hard work. This is especially true, he said, for first-generation graduates.

“I'm a first-gen graduate college graduate, and that's become a big deal at the university and promoting that we have a lot of first-gen graduates,” Cook said.

Cook knows what it’s like to walk across that stage in front of parents and family. Since graduates won’t be doing that this year, he said he’s taking the writing of his speech even more seriously.

“It’s probably the only time I ever saw my dad cry was when I graduated from college,” Cook said. “It’s a big deal, it’s a big honor.”

While this isn’t a ‘normal’ graduation ceremony, Cook said UNL is doing all it can to make it memorable for the 3,500 graduates.

“They've got some really cool ideas they've been talking about,” Cook said. “So I just, you know, that's another really neat thing is they want to make this special – and it should be.”

UNL’s commencement ceremonies will be held May 9th and can be streamed online on the university’s website.

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