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Sharon Chappy, RN, Ph.D., CNOR

Sharon Chappy, RN, Ph.D., CNOR, associate professor, associate dean, graduate program director in the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh’s College of Nursing… and avid Harley Davidson rider, shared some rules of the road for life in her keynote address to the Midyear Commencement class of 2011 on Dec. 17, 2011…

Chancellor Wells, esteemed colleagues, graduates and friends. I welcome you today.

I drive a Harley Davidson motorcycle. In the Harley world the saying goes: It’s not the destination, it’s the journey. But one can certainly argue that you have arrived at a very important destination today. For those earning Bachelor’s degrees, you are joining only 28 percent of Americans who have a Bachelor’s degree or higher; for those getting a Master’s degree, you are now among only about 7 percent of Americans. So be proud of what you have accomplished.

But I want to remind you that this destination today becomes your starting point for your next journey. And I would like to share a few lessons, taken from some of my motorcycle rides, to think about as you move forward toward your next destination.

Lesson #1: You are capable of much more than you realize right now. My husband and I were riding in Yellowstone National Park during my first cross country trip. The temperature dropped suddenly to right around freezing. It began to rain and sleet, and every turn we took looking for shelter only seemed to get us into worse conditions. We drove about 50 miles before we found a safe haven, a restroom. As we got off our bikes, lightning struck just a few feet from us. Tears began to run down my face. My husband looked at me and said, “This is all part of the experience; you’ve been practicing for this.” It was getting close to nightfall, and we had to ride out of the park before dark. I got back on my bike, wet and cold, and after about an hour, the storm broke and the most beautiful rainbow I have ever seen appeared so close that I thought I could touch it. That day became a benchmark for me. Now when I ride through rain or wind or other conditions, I confidently say, “That’s not as bad as Yellowstone.” You are entering some turbulent times. The job market is tough; the economy is not immediately promising. But you have been practicing for this. You are armed with the specialty knowledge and the degree you have worked so hard to earn. Consider any bad times as benchmarks and opportunities for personal growth. If you don’t have any bad weather, you don’t appreciate the rainbows.

Lesson #2: Enjoy the scenery wherever you are headed. We were making the trek through Beartooth Pass in Wyoming which rises to almost 11,000 feet and has been pegged as one of the most scenic rides in America. When I joined my husband at the bottom of the mountain, he excitedly said, “Wow…Did you see…” and he listed all the wonderful things…the lakes, the rock formations, the animals and the snow caps. I looked at him somewhat wide-eyed and admitted that I had not seen much of it at all. I was too busy concentrating on the road and keeping my bike upright through S-turns and other winding, guardrail-free curves. But, graduates, you are not leaving here on motorcycles today, and I would like to challenge you to take in all the scenery on the way to your next destination. You have prepared yourself well for the ride; you can afford to look up once in a while to enjoy what is all around you. That’s what I will do when I ride Beartooth Pass the next time. 

Lesson #3: Detours are simply another way to get to your destination. At Deals Gap North Carolina, a detour kept us from getting to a road called The Tail of the Dragon. It’s an 11-mile stretch of road with 318 curves — truly a biker’s Mecca. When we got back to our hotel that night, we heard that two motorcyclists were killed that afternoon on that road. If your life seems to take a detour, it may be for a darn good reason.

Lesson #4: Always dress like you are being photographed, speak like you are being recorded and act as if you are being filmed. Our travels have taken us to many rallies, including Sturgis several times. You might have heard about some activities that allegedly occur there. But no matter where I am, I am a nurse, a mother and a professor representing UW Oshkosh. You never know where a future employer, client or other important contact might be. The world gets smaller every day, and our activities become more visible. It’s important to always be sure you are portraying an image of yourself that you can be proud of.  

Lesson #5: Connect with as many people as you can along the way. During our rides, connections always prove to be valuable by warning us of dangerous road conditions or pointing us to incredible places. Yours could get you a lead on a job or an “in” for an interview. The connections you have made here at UW Oshkosh are a springboard for the future.  

So, in closing, I hope your ride getting to this destination today was a wonderful one. I hope you will remember all the scenery here and the connections with people who gave you directions along the way. But be off now, to officially begin your next journey. As you leave here today, ride safe, ride free and remember to keep your bike upright on the winding roads that lie ahead. It’s easier to touch a rainbow that way!