By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Grace Tolstedt doesn’t know who nominated her to speak at the University of Nebraska at Kearney’s winter commencement ceremony.
The call from the Chancellor’s Office came as a total surprise.
“I was completely taken aback,” Tolstedt said. “I had no idea.”
Whoever that mystery person is, they made a great recommendation.
Tolstedt exemplifies the UNK experience and the positive impact this campus has on students.
“It’s an honor to be the person who gets to say thank you,” she said.
A graduate of Alliance High School, Tolstedt arrived at UNK with some uncertainty about her future. After 3 1/2 years of “growing and learning,” she’ll walk across the stage Friday to receive a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice with minors in political science and public law.
“Being at UNK has allowed me to find out who I am and not who everyone thinks you’re supposed to be,” she said. “It’s such a supportive environment and there are so many opportunities to learn more about yourself and the people around you. I think it really opened my eyes to all the different possibilities there are in the world.”
Tolstedt, who graduates summa cum laude with a 3.98 GPA, made the most of her time at UNK, where she was a member of the Kearney Law Opportunities Program.
A partnership between UNK and the University of Nebraska College of Law, that program recruits and trains students from rural Nebraska who are committed to practicing law in these areas. Participants receive a full-tuition scholarship to attend UNK and guaranteed admission to the College of Law in Lincoln if all requirements are met.
Originally interested in corporate and business law, Tolstedt now plans to work as a prosecutor, focusing on sexual assault cases. She completed internships with Deck & Deck, a law firm in Sioux City, Iowa, where her parents live, and the Buffalo County Attorney’s Office.
Tolstedt was involved in a variety of student organizations, as well.
“I’d say one of the things I grew the most through was Alpha Phi Sigma,” she said of the criminal justice honor society.
As vice president for the past year, Tolstedt was tasked with lining up guest speakers, giving her a chance to network with professionals and learn about different career paths. The Criminal Justice Student Club provided additional career development opportunities, and she connected with professionals and fellow pre-law students while serving as the public relations officer and treasurer for the Pre-Law Society.
“Overall, I gained a lot of confidence through those roles,” said Tolstedt, who was also part of FIRST Leaders, a leadership program that focuses on service-learning activities, and The Gold Torch Society, a mentoring program for UNK alumni women and undergraduate women.
Additionally, Tolstedt was secretary of student organizations and affairs for UNK Student Government; she mentored freshmen through the UNK Honors Program; and she volunteered as a Loper Leader the last three years. Loper Leaders provide assistance during Blue and Gold Welcome Week each August, ensuring new students receive an energetic introduction to campus and the community.
“I really enjoyed getting to know the freshman students each year,” Tolstedt said. “I enjoyed Blue and Gold Welcome as a freshman, so I wanted to make sure other students had a great experience, too.”
In the community, Tolstedt was an Awana leader for three years at Hope Evangelical Free Church.
All of those activities helped make her the person she is today.
“You’re not getting everything out of your education if you aren’t getting involved,” Tolstedt said. “You can only learn so much in the classroom. Plus, I met some of my closest and most supportive friends by getting involved.”
With her time at UNK coming to an end, Tolstedt plans to move back to Sioux City, where she’ll work for Deck & Deck before beginning law school next fall.
But first, she has one final opportunity to celebrate her successes and thank the people who supported her over the past 3 1/2 years.