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Chris Rogers, a geology major from Berlin, told his peers during the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh’s 9 a.m. Commencement ceremony on May 14, that college is like a road trip, with graduation representing the next leg of the journey.

Here is a transcript of his speech:

“This moment is the end of a very long road trip for us all. While we sit here robed in black with tassels dangling in our faces, let’s pause to reflect how we completed this journey to attain the status of college graduate.

“College has been more than years of formal instruction and this degree is more than a diploma. We have just experienced years of transformation, as academic and personal challenges have moved us from who we were, to who we now are. What a trip it has been. Our minds and hearts and beings have been expanded. How did those changes occur? How did we become college educated citizens? How were we able to persevere?

“The diplomas we have earned will have our names on them. But graduates, look around, see the families in the crowd, your friends sitting right next to you. See the faculty and staff. These are the people who made the completion of this road trip possible, acting just like a GPS so that you might find your way. As you finished that last paper, it may have felt like your individual achievement, but gratitude should rival our feelings of personal accomplishment today.

“Our family and friends need our gratitude, but before you leave UW Oshkosh, please also remember to say “thank you” to at least one of the educators who have supported your road trip, day after day on this campus. Without the educator, there is no education.

“We each have a story of this trip that brought us from where we were to the destination of college graduation. I was extremely anxious as I merged into the traffic of college – a nontraditional student after eight years of military service. But I persevered. Leaving behind my brothers in arms was a difficult transition. It wasn’t long into my schooling though, that I recognized I had a new family. The UW Oshkosh faculty reminded me of those with whom I had served in Iraq – professionals sacrificing time and sharing expertise to ensure my success. As was the case with Dr. Eric Hiatt, a geology professor, staying well past supper time on a Friday evening to talk about my uneasiness in changing majors. And, Dr. Lori Carrell, who took the time to mentor this soldier who just returned from Iraq, aiding me as I worked to constructively harbor PTSD demons through the power of speech.

“Individuals like these epitomize UW Oshkosh. Each of you has encountered such professors. There are so many who care deeply about our education, including those who challenged us to do more than we thought we could. Graduates, we have been fortunate. Professors, we appreciate you. Your service and dedication to us has made a difference. Thank you.

“On my way to this moment, I had to persevere through two years of deployments, the loss of 32 fellow soldiers and a divorce as a result of PTSD. I am not the only one who has suffered hardships though. There are fellow combat veterans here today with similar stories. Congratulations veterans, we have persevered. There are single parents who have struggled to make ends meet, juggling schedules of children, work and their own classes. Congratulations, you have persevered. We have graduates today who have encountered racial biases and social isolation. Congratulations, you have persevered. So many of us graduating today have lost family members and dear friends during this journey. Congratulations, you have persevered. So many different kinds of struggles, yet our commitment to become educated citizens has created a commonality among us. That commonality? Perseverance!

“As you know, the road trip is not really over. After we leave this rest stop of reflection, celebration and expression of gratitude, we’re going back on the road again. Better equipped, inspired to take new directions, unsure of our destination. As we take that on-ramp, moving forward into the next lane of life, apprehension is real. We have overcome so much. Let this success fuel us for what is next. The journey forward from this day may be even more demanding, but we stand ready, grateful for those who have inspired us to persevere.

“With gratitude, with pride, with anticipation – I say it again: Congratulations, graduates!”

Read more about spring 2011 commencement:

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