Martin Russell ‘86 to Serve as Midland University Commencement Speaker
As he watches Midland University graduates walk across the stage to receive their diplomas, Rev. Martin Russell ‘86 will have a great understanding and appreciation for the journey taken by each student.
Russell himself was in their very shoes, earning his degree from Midland 37 years ago. He will return to his alma mater to serve as keynote speaker for Midland’s Undergraduate Commencement ceremony. Commencement begins at 10 a.m. at the Wikert Event Center on May 6, 2023.
“As an alum, it is only natural to want to remain engaged with Midland in meaningful ways that advance Midland University in service to future generations,” Russell said. “Midland’s values as a liberal arts institution align with the educational priorities that I believe in, and I am committed to Midland’s mission to learn and lead in the world with purpose.”
Russell serves as the Director of Africa Operations for the Omaha-based Opportunity Education Foundation. His focus over the past nine years has been to offer students across Tanzania a high-quality secondary education, as well as the opportunity to gain the mindset, habits, and skills to create value for their families, communities, and country.
A large part of Russell’s life has been working hard to ensure a better life for those around him, both in the states and across the globe. As he addresses students, Russell wants to challenge them to make a difference for people they encounter along their journey. “People seek meaning in their daily lives and careers, wanting to live lives of purpose that create value for themselves, their families, and their communities,” he said. “As Midland students receive their diplomas, I hope they are challenged and inspired to think deeply about what they care about and the difference they can make in the world.”
He also wants to encourage students to be flexible and willing to accept detours that may occur along the way. “I wish graduates the freedom to explore, change their minds, learn from setbacks, and take risks,” he said. “Pursue plans as energetically as you can, but at the end of the day, best-laid plans can often derail. What’s behind unexpected detours or broken plans often leads to greater fulfillment and something more exciting.
“I would also encourage you to travel, because travel opens the world to you. It promotes reflection on your own values as you encounter new people and new cultures, making you more self-aware and accepting of others.”
Graduates have spent the majority of their lives learning from others, but Russell is challenging them to make sure the learning doesn’t stop once they have their diploma in hand. “Never stop learning,” he said. “Learning drives personal growth. If you are pursuing a job, look for opportunities that stretch you to grow, and use your career as an opportunity to learn.”
Russell’s roots run deep at Midland, as he is among 18 members of his family, spanning four generations, who have attended Midland University over the past 100 years. His parents met at Midland, and he was introduced to his wife, Lori, by two former classmates. “I am filled with gratitude to have this opportunity to come back to Midland,” he said. “My entire life connects to Midland, and Midland provided a learning environment by helping me discern my life calling and identify how I wanted to make a difference in the world.”
Russell holds a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration from Midland University and a Master of Divinity from United Lutheran Seminary (Gettysburg, PA). He completed Clinical Pastoral Education at Connecticut Valley Hospital (Middletown, CT). He served his seminary internship at Advent Lutheran Church (Westminster, CO) and was a student pastor at St. John Lutheran Church (Harpers Ferry, WV).
He is an ordained pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and formerly served Eben-Ezer Lutheran Church (Brenham, TX), Faith Lutheran Church (Philadelphia, PA), Our Savior Lutheran Church (Wayne, NE), and Our Redeemer Lutheran Church (Helena, MT). For 11 years, he served as an Assistant to the Bishop for the Nebraska Synod of the ELCA.
He served 12 years as a Midland University Board of Trustees member, including two years as the board chairperson. While a student at Midland University, he was involved in many campus activities and was awarded the distinguished John R. Prauner Senior Award upon his graduation in 1986.
Martin and his wife, Lori, have a daughter, Grace.