Student voices return to commencement; happy holidays

I had the privilege of giving my first and only commencement address on Saturday to about 750 proud graduates, their family and friends, as well as our faculty and staff, at two ceremonies in Johnson Fieldhouse.

My remarks are included below in their entirety, as well as the remarks of the two students who we added to the program this year. As the provost and commencement master of ceremonies for the last four years, I felt that commencement would benefit from student voices, and I want to thank Dean of Students Sandi Scott and Britta Miller, commencement ceremony coordinator, for making that addition on relatively short notice.

The best that we can determine, the last time students were heard from at commencement was the early 1970s, according to Heather Stecklein, director of University Archives and Area Research Center.

Both students did an outstanding job: Megan McClay, of Butternut, who received a diploma in applied mathematics and computer science, and Kailee Bjerke, of Spring Grove, Minn., who received a degree in professional communication and emerging media.

I want to thank all the students who applied for the speaking spots.  It was a very competitive process, and I am pleased that so many students were interested in sharing their thoughts with our graduates. 

Best wishes for a happy holiday season

I also want to extend my best wishes to our students, faculty and staff as we head into our holiday break. I hope that you all have a great holiday season and get to spend time with your family and friends.

Please accept my sincere thanks for all you do each day for UW-Stout and best wishes for a great 2020! 

Interim Chancellor Guilfoile’s address

Congratulations, graduates. You made it!  

The hard work you’ve put in and your persistence have brought you to this special day in your life — when you become a college graduate. December 14th, 2019, is the culmination of many years of effort. 

For most of you, however, your education was not a solo journey. You have received support from family and friends, who helped you overcome myriad challenges. I would now ask immediate family members, extended family members, and friends of the graduates – many of you who have traveled many miles to be here today — to stand.  

Let’s show our appreciation to the supporters of our graduates with a round of applause. 

Graduates, you also received support on your higher education journey from the incredible faculty and staff at UW-Stout — professors, advisers, lab technicians, student support offices, coaches, mentors, facilities staff and many others who went out of their way to make sure you stayed on track and challenged you to achieve. Working with these talented people every day, I know firsthand how dedicated they are to your success. 

If we’ve accomplished our educational goals, your time at UW-Stout has developed your curiosity and tolerance and you’ve become more appreciative of difference.  You have honed the ability to understand multiple perspectives and discern fact from fiction.  You’ve enhanced your ability to communicate and work with others.  And you’ve learned a good deal about a specific field, that most of you will apply as you launch into your careers.   

More than anything else, I hope that you have a burning desire to keep learning. The world is changing so quickly that if you fail to pay attention, you could be left behind.  

I also hope that you will pay it forward. Higher education is facing challenges like never before. In Wisconsin, our ability to offer a quality education for our students is threatened by declining state support. Yet, we are a great investment and we want you to help share that message. Please tell your success stories from UW-Stout to family, friends and public officials at the local, state, and federal level.  

Our mission at UW-Stout is to prepare graduates for a career as well as for life. Most of you soon will be starting a professional position or continuing your education in graduate school. This will be an exciting and fulfilling time.  

As your career and life unfold, however, I encourage you to establish a balance between work, time with family, and community involvement.  

A key to happiness is to be involved in something larger than yourself. That could be your work, as you help make the world a better place. It might be in quality time spent with your family. Or it could be giving your time to nonprofit organizations in your community, state, and around the nation and world. 

You wouldn’t be crossing the stage today if you weren’t incredibly talented. Generously share those talents with others. We need you. The world needs you. 

As a college graduate, many doors will be opened to you. Use the skills and confidence you have developed at UW-Stout to constantly stop and ask yourself, “How can I help?” 

Again, congratulations graduates! It is our sincere hope that you and your families and friends have a memorable day today, and a wonderful life. Each and every one of you has earned it.  We are very Stout Proud of you! 

Megan McClay’s address

Welcome. Welcome graduates, family, friends, faculty and staff and congratulations to today’s UW-Stout graduates. It is an honor for me to stand on this stage. Thank you all for coming to support us at commencement. I want to extend my congratulations and thanks not only to the graduates, but to the support system of each graduate and their role on the long journey here.  

Personally, I need to thank my parents, my brother, and my fiancé, because I know very well that I could not have gotten here alone. I am sure many of you have similar thanks to give. We wouldn’t have made it without the professors pushing us to do our best, or the constant love and support from our parents and families. We probably could have done without our roommates convincing us staying up all night on a Tuesday was a great idea, but life is about balance.  

These congratulations are important, but do not let that overshadow the congratulations to yourself. We have endured late nights, early mornings, brutal exams, and the occasional meltdown when you remembered a paper was due at 11:59 pm, and it was already 11:30, and all of this happened while life was still going on around us. Some of us have faced loss or hardship, but still made it here. Others have persevered through major life events, like getting married or raising a family, and still made it here. Some had to struggle through a class where not everyone else looked like us, or maybe no one did, and here we are. One thing I’m sure of is college is challenging, yet here we are, and for that we should all be proud.  

Graduates, we should be proud of our accomplishments both academic and otherwise. Yes, we worked hard in the classroom, but we did much more than that. In addition to academically excelling and gaining a degree, we made an impact. Throughout my time here, and while on the cheer and stunt team one of my favorite things to do was to attend sporting events. During our time here the UW-Stout Gymnastics team placed second at nationals. The football team was nationally ranked after a historic win over the St. Thomas Tommies. Off the field, last spring, our students took first place in national competitions in packaging design, construction planning and computer networking. We also won an international competition in assistive technology. We are not bound by books and letter grades; we are a complex community at Stout that excels all around. We have not only excelled, we have learned skills, information, and most importantly lessons. 

My 3rd year at Stout I was a teaching assistant for a math professor who told me about a scholarship opportunity. It was a large scholarship and extremely competitive, but I filled out the application anyway, and then waited.  

A few weeks later I was notified that I had received the scholarship. I went to his office to share the news. The first thing he asked me was “did you read the qualifications?” and confused I said “no, since you recommended me, I assumed I met all of them”. He then went on to tell me that there were 3 preferred qualifications I did not meet, classes that I hadn’t taken yet. He asked me if I would have applied had I known I didn’t meet every single qualification and honestly, I would not have. Reading a list of preferred qualifications written by someone who had no idea who I was or what I had accomplished may have kept me from even making an attempt, fearing I was not adequate.  

He then said the most important words I have heard during my time here at Stout, “you are more than a piece of paper, do not let what someone else says you do or do not deserve, define what you believe you can do”. As we end our time here at Stout I think many of us need to hear that.  

We are entering life after college with resumes in hand and business cards at the ready, but we are more than that, we are greater than what might be shown on a piece of paper.  

We are a culmination of experiences and valuable characteristics. We are graduating from Wisconsin’s Polytechnic University, which you, like myself, may have googled after seeing it proclaimed across the campus skyway, and that means that we learn by doing, and strive to meet the needs of our communities, our state, and society as a whole.  

While we have worked long and hard to reach this educational milestone, and receive our diplomas, we should remember that our degrees are a part of our greater accomplishments. 

And so, I would give you all my best wishes, but you don’t need them. I will simply remind you that we are all Blue Devils and to remember what we’ve done here. Thank you, and congratulations to the UW-Stout graduates. We did it.  

Kailee Bjerke’s address

Hello, and welcome! It is an honor to stand before you and speak on behalf of the 2019 graduating class.  

I want to start by saying thank you. Thank you, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers, sister, faculty, staff and advisors and to anyone else who has supported all of us from the beginning. We couldn’t have done this without you.  

Secondly, for all you non-believers out there, senioritis is a real thing and it was in full swing this last semester! So, the love and support were extremely helpful! 

Now, I want everyone in the room to take a moment to reflect on a time you’ve heard the word no. Maybe it was for an extension on a project, a promotion at work, or even hearing “no” to the job you really wanted. How did you react to that no? Did you let it get you down and give up? Or did you take that no and let it motivate you to succeed? 

Since we were kids, we’ve always been told no. “No, don’t do that., No, you can’t touch that., No, don’t bite your sister.” Well, maybe that last one was just me. As we got older the “no’s” started to change. They became more meaningful and they started to teach us a lesson. Over my four and a half years at Stout, I have learned that no doesn’t always mean never.  

Now that you’ve all had a moment to think about your own ‘no’ stories, I want to share a special story about Katherine P. Frank, who was named UW-Stout’s new chancellor earlier this month and will take over on March 1st. She will be the University’s first female chancellor. So, when I first read her ‘no’ story, I was extremely inspired.  

Her ‘no’ story was tied to her journey of applying to graduate schools. On top of hearing no during the application process, Dr. Frank was told ‘no’ several more times when taking the Graduate Records Examination. The Graduate Records Examination is a computer-based, standardized exam that is often required for admission to graduate programs. 

When Dr. Frank was finally admitted to her graduate program, she was admitted without a teaching assistantship. So, really, her “yes” to admission was qualified with a “no” to funding.” 

The initial ‘no’ to the assistantship drove her to fully commit herself to her education. It challenged her to think outside of the box, to struggle, to make her work stand out and learn when to ask for help. Growing through this unfamiliar and uncomfortable learning space allowed her to fully understand what graduate school was all about.  

According to Dr. Frank, “the process taught me to embrace ‘no’ as a challenge; to immerse myself in the struggle, to understand it, and to make it my own; to persist; and to help others do the same. Helping others to do the same is essential; for me, it means that we have forced open a closed door and have held it open for those who come after us.”  

Imagine how many doors we could all force open if we take hearing the word ‘no’ as a challenge to immerse ourselves in the struggle.  

Stout has been preparing us for our futures by teaching us how to respond to the word “no”. For example, committing more time to studying when our grades were not satisfactory, or working harder to earn a spot on the team or a leadership role within an organization on campus.  

It’s about how you bounce back and learn from that no. Are you going to let it define your future? Or are you going to let it be a pivotal moment that will motivate you to succeed?  

Stout has given me the confidence to succeed in these moments and pursue things I would never have dreamed of. Recently after hearing ‘no’ when applying to a job I really wanted, I was pushed to step outside my comfort zone and look into continuing my education abroad. I will not let that no, or any no after, define my future career successes. Thanks to Stout and my degree, I have the communication and leadership skills that will set me apart from other candidates. I am ready to go out and start my next adventure.  

We are here to celebrate all that college has taught us, for you that may be; independence, money management, life skills, and career skills. Take all that you have learned and experienced here at Stout and apply it to your new adventure.  

Congratulations graduating class of 2019. Here is to the word no, and letting it foster new beginnings! Thank you. 


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