KEARNEY – Ryan Clark is an unremarkable person.
At least that’s how he views himself.
“I don’t have any crazy story to tell or any inspiring moment,” Clark said.
Yet, much to his surprise, the 23-year-old will be on stage Friday during the University of Nebraska at Kearney’s winter commencement to deliver the student address.
“I wanted to know why so many people said no before they got to me,” joked Clark, who is graduating summa cum laude with bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and business administration with a finance emphasis.
The Kearney native is honored he was selected to represent the 381 undergraduate and graduate students who will be recognized 10 a.m. Friday at the Health and Sports Center, but he’s not convinced he’s worthy of the moment.
“I don’t really view myself as this big leader or prominent figure,” Clark said. “I’m somebody who just goes to class and gives 100% in everything I do.”
In his mind, that’s the beauty of UNK.
“You don’t have to be somebody special to come here and succeed,” he said. “You don’t have to have all these accolades. You don’t have to have parents with certain connections.”
“It’s us unremarkable people who can go out and change the world.”
Clark didn’t plan to attend UNK when he first started looking at college options.
Like many high schoolers, he wanted to get away from his hometown and explore life on his own.
“Growing up, I always knew I was going anywhere but UNK,” Clark said.
He was concerned that staying in Kearney would feel too much like high school – the same friends, the same activities, the same old city.
“I didn’t recognize the connections you can make at UNK and how many resources are available to you,” he said. “I’ve traveled from New York to Anaheim to Chicago to Florida, pretty much all over the country, getting to do different things. I didn’t think UNK was the type of school that would provide me with those types of opportunities.”
Clark learned pretty quickly that he could be involved with a variety of activities and organizations at UNK, and he took full advantage of the situation.
He played for the Loper men’s golf team, joined Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the UNK Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and was active with Enactus, a business and entrepreneurship group open to all UNK students. Through Enactus, now the Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization, Clark honed his business skills and competed at regional and national events in Anaheim, California, Washington, D.C., Chicago, St. Louis and Kansas City.
As a sophomore, he took part in a Model United Nations summit in New York City and joined Pi Kappa Alpha, eventually serving as the fraternity’s treasurer and president.
“That’s the best decision I’ve made on this campus,” he said of his involvement with Greek life. “It really helped me grow over the last few years and it’s one of the things that’s best prepared me for when I graduate.”
The opportunities available at UNK gave Clark “a more well-rounded college experience.”
“It really helped me get out of my comfort zone and meet new people,” he said. “While I’m still friends with a bunch of people I went to high school with, I really met most of my closest friends through UNK and those organizations.”
INSPIRED TO EDUCATE
On Friday, Clark will join his parents, Don and Wendy, as UNK alumni.
Wendy received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education from UNK, and Don earned a master’s in education through the university.
Don taught mathematics and computer science for 32 years, including 28 at Kearney High School, before retiring last year. He was recognized by the UNK Alumni Association as the College of Education Distinguished Educator of the Year in 2018. Wendy, a shortstop on UNK’s softball national championship teams in 1987 and 1990, is also a math teacher. She’s been with Kearney Public Schools for most of her 29-year career, including the past three years at Sunrise Middle School.
“They had the opportunity to impact thousands of students through education and coaching and have never expected to receive anything in return,” Clark said. “Their love of education and the selfless way in which they carry themselves are what inspired me and my younger sister to pursue careers in education.”
Clark plans to be a college professor, and his younger sister Kelsey is studying elementary education at Northwest Missouri State University.
In addition to his parents’ influence, Clark was inspired by the dedicated faculty at UNK.
“The faculty here have blown me away,” he said. “The amount of care they have for students and their success is far beyond what I expected.”
These faculty members supported Clark as he pursued undergraduate research projects focusing on graph theory, post-earnings announcement drift and trends in portfolio returns.
“While I wouldn’t classify any of the findings I made as groundbreaking, I really appreciated the experience,” Clark said. “That was a really good opportunity for me because I want to go into a Ph.D. program and I think it will help set me apart on those applications.”
“The more I’ve looked into research and the more I’ve done, the more I’m excited about it,” he added. “I think it’s a way to educate the masses. If you’re able to make these discoveries through research, now you’re no longer confined to educating only people in your classroom. You can educate hundreds of thousands as your research gets accepted and published.”
A recipient of the Mary Jane and William R. Nester Student Leadership Award, Clark maintained a 3.99 GPA while participating in the UNK Honors Program. He’s a member of the Mortar Board, Order of Omega, Kappa Mu Epsilon, Beta Gamma Sigma and Phi Eta Sigma honor societies.
After graduation, the “official plan” is to move back into his parents’ house while awaiting word from 13 graduate schools he applied to. Clark has already been offered a consultant position at the Pi Kappa Alpha international headquarters in Memphis, Tennessee, that would run from June 2020 to May 2021, so he’s hoping to begin a doctoral program in finance in fall 2021.
“UNK has provided me with so many opportunities that now I’m competing for Ph.D. acceptance into the top universities in the country and the world,” he said.
That’s pretty remarkable.