James O'Rourke

Dr. James O’Rourke, Distinguished Service Award recipient, Chadron State College graduation speaker, and Professor Emeritus of Agriculture, speaks to undergraduates in the Chicoine Center Friday.

Photo by Tena L. Cook/Chadron State College

Dr. James O’Rourke, founder of Chadron State College’s Range Management program, urged Chadron State College graduates earning their bachelor’s degrees to seek out professional organizations and contribute to them during his commencement speech Friday afternoon at the Chicoine Center.

O’Rourke also expressed thanks for support from Chadron State College and said the Distinguished Service Award he received would not have been possible without his family.

“Their sacrifices were huge for the tremendous amount of time I spent supporting my profession. For me, that has been rewarded when I see the new [Rangeland Complex] up on the hill, when I see the expansion of the number of faculty in the range program at CSC.”

He said there are 137 students enrolled in the program, compared to 30 or 40 at others.

In the exercises, 172 graduates earned their degrees. Cody Cooper of Gothenburg, Nebraska, gave the opening moment of reflection and Sofia Trefilova-Martin of Syktyvkar, Russia offered the closing moment of reflection.

During his address, O’Rourke explained how professional organizations advocate for various causes and emphasized the importance of working summers in one’s profession during college to establish a reputation and exhibit dedication to a career choice. He said students should also attend professional association meetings and training opportunities to network.

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O’Rourke, a school board member himself, urged the graduates to consider serving on a school board, city council, county commission or other civic organization.

“Membership in an organization is usually based on two personal goals: a desire to rally to a cause or to engage in some level of self-improvement…. What does a professional organization do? For society? For you? To help answer these questions you might look at the organization’s vision and mission statements,” he said.

In his final comments, O’Rourke reiterated his challenge for the graduates to be part of something larger than themselves.

“When we identify smooth brome grass in range management we do so by looking for a W on the leaf. If you stand on your head, or break the leaf off and turn it upright, an M is visible. Maybe we need to be careful about turning over new leaves if it results in a ME generation when what would be desirable is a WE generation. Take the leaf’s message and start on the road to professionalism,” O’Rourke said.

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