LEWISTON – In a Niagara University commencement speech, Nik Wallenda said his 27-minute tightrope walk across Niagara Falls and its wind and blinding mist followed a life of conquered obstacles – from self-doubt to reluctant governments – that he hoped might inspire.
“Seek out what makes you unique. ... From what vantage point do you hope to one day view your life?” said Wallenda, who talked of his plan to walk across the Grand Canyon this summer. “Pursue your dreams and never give up.”
Wallenda, who drew thousands to the Falls last June to watch him carry on a family tightrope-walking tradition, said Saturday that he nearly pursued a safer career managing a restaurant.
“I knew I could have easily settled for what seemed practical,” he said, speaking to a crowd of 2,300, including 300 hospitality and business graduates in the NU gym. Instead, he said, there was a deeper satisfaction in the riskier path, a choice that included his daring walk last summer – a feat nearly nixed by Canadian officials. “With each step on that wire, I was fulfilling a dream.”
Wallenda also told the story of his grandfather, who once sneaked out of a hospital to perform on the high-wire:
“That ‘never-give-up’ mantra was becoming ingrained in my character,” said the grandson.
On Thursday, Kenneth Taylor, former Canadian ambassador to Iran, spoke to 375 NU students earning master’s degrees – from education to business and criminal justice. Taylor, who was portrayed in the Oscar-winning movie “Argo,” credited his success in helping to rescue Americans during the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis to good relations between the U.S. and Canada.
On Saturday afternoon, retiring NU President Rev. Joseph L. Levesque asked nearly 500 graduates in education and arts and sciences to demonstrate hope and peace in memory of those who died in school shootings and the Boston bombing.
Two others area colleges held commencement ceremonies Saturday.
Niagara County Community College
At Niagara County Community College in Sanborn, 1,140 students earning degrees and certificates in fields ranging from health and large animal care to culinary arts laughed at the humor and wisdom of Stephanie Miller, a Lockport native with a nationally syndicated radio show.
She joked about missteps, such as her early stop at local station WHLD: She was proud of a 20-minute monologue until the manager called to ask why there was radio silence. She hadn’t turned on the microphone.
“So that did not turn out as I’d hoped,” said Miller after the ceremony. “Sometimes your dreams don’t look exactly like you think they’re going to.”
Developer Howard Zemsky delivered the keynote address to Hilbert College’s 267 graduates in Wesleyan Church, Hamburg.
This year’s graduation featured the school’s first 19 students to earn master’s degrees in criminal justice and public administration. The specialities fit with the college’s undergraduate programs in forensic science, legal studies, accounting and digital media.
Zemsky, managing partner of the Larkin Development Group, urged curiosity and humility.
“If you take yourself too seriously,” he said, “you will talk too much and listen too little.”