That was a common response as University of Wisconsin Oshkosh graduates reflected on their personal investments and powerful educations in the moments leading up to the 48th Midyear Commencement Ceremony Saturday, Dec. 15.
Nearly 1,100 graduates — more than 150 graduate and more than 930 undergraduate students — received their UW Oshkosh degrees as part of the institution’s Midyear Commencement Ceremony. And an estimated 7,000 family members, friends, neighbors, co-workers and other supporters gathered in a newly-renovated Kolf Sports Center arena to celebrate their diverse accomplishments.
“The years of hard work have finally come to fruition,” said Mike Waters, of Appleton, who took the unconventional celebratory step of briefly tailgating in a parking lot outside of Kolf Sports Center in the hour leading up to the ceremony.
After six years of study, Waters earned his Master’s of Business Administration degree. He was filled with excitement and pride, he said.
“It probably seems a little cheesy to be out here tailgating, but hey, we earned it,” said Jeremy Schwab, also an MBA graduate, who met and became friends with Waters during his time in the MBA program at UW Oshkosh.
“This was three years of a lot of hard work,” Schwab said.
Both Waters and Schwab, like many, were appreciative of their families’ support during the milestone day.
Traditions — old and new
“I did it for my mom,” said College of Nursing graduate Pa Yang whose mortarboard read: “I did it mom.”
Yang’s mortarboard, by design, matched her red pumps, which stood out from below her graduation gown.
While the traditions of Commencement at UW Oshkosh are many year after year, technology is changing the way students participate in and celebration graduation. In the lower level gymnasiums and classrooms of Kolf, where graduates lined up before the ceremony, there was hardly a person to be found without a mobile phone. Thoughts were shared on Facebook, photos were captured, many even posted to the #commencementkicks Twitter hashtag, which encouraged those participating in the ceremony to show off their shoes — the one thing that really stands out in the sea of traditional black gowns.
“Ohhh, you are not,” yelled a family member with a smile to graduate James Myles Teteak as she took one look at his cowboy boots.
Teteak opted for the boots for his commencement kicks handing over his black dress shoes. The boots are representative of the marketing major’s roots; he’s from Texas and has worn his cherished pair of boots many times as he trekked across campus during his journey at UW Oshkosh.
At the ceremony, State. Sen. Jessica King, a UW Oshkosh alumna, and UW System Board of Regents representatives Tim Higgins shared words of encouragement with the graduates.
“There is no one better than you to tell this University’s story,” Higgins said, stressing the value of the institution and its more than “one-half-billion-dollar” economic impact on the region and state.
Ashton Broeckel, of Plymouth, who graduated with a degree in criminal justice was just one newly-minted alumnae who already had many great things to say about her alma mater as she headed into her future.
“UWO is just great,” Broeckel said. “The classes were great; the professors are helpful and willing to work with you. I really liked college. It was a lot of fun.”
Broeckel’s mom, Joanne, was beaming as she attended her daughter’s college graduation.
“We’re very proud. This is the start of her life. She’s really a big girl now,” Joanne Broeckel said.
Honoring an academic, renewable energy partner
During the ceremony, Chancellor Richard Wells awarded the Chancellor’s Medallion to Joachim Janssen, CFO for the Allendorf, Germany-based Viessmann Group. Janssen’s nomination for the UW Oshkosh honor was based on his track record of innovation and collaboration inside and outside his industry. Janssen is a committed ally in helping promote sustainability at UW Oshkosh and throughout the region, state and nation.
On Friday, Dec. 14, during a presentation and lecture to students, faculty and staff in Sage Hall, Janssen stressed the importance of Viessmann’s collaborative strategic planning processes and innovations — an ethic and approach that has clearly identified the company’s academic and energy partnerships with UW Oshkosh as key initiatives in the years ahead.
“Surprisingly enough, strategy is just like bobsledding,” Janssen said, using Viessmann’s support for the German winter and Olympic sport as a symbol for strategic planning. “You do know where you are going, but you don’t know how you’re going to get there.”
Speakers focus on key decisions, breaking the rules to propel grads
James Dovalis, a nontraditional student who served as class speaker, graduating with a Bachelor of Liberal Education degree from the Division of Lifelong Learning and Community Engagement, embraced every second of his opportunity to address the audience of 7,000 classmates and Commencement guests.
“If you haven’t noticed yet, I’m a bit older than the traditional college graduate,” Dovalis said. “In fact, I’ve been informed that I am the oldest student commencement speaker in the history of UW Oshkosh. I’m proof that it’s never too late to decide to go back and finish.”
Emmanuel Jean Francois, PhD, assistant professor, Department of Human Services and Educational Leadership, offered remarks in the keynote address to the Midyear Commencement class. He stressed the social importance of rule-breaking, provided grads accept responsibility for it and make sure to spread the resulting good change and shared value to other human beings.
“If you forget anything, at least remember the three things that I said: First, break all the rules! Take ownership over the rules you have broken! Create alternative rules!” he said.
Earlier in the academic year, during the May 2012 Commencement ceremony, nearly 1,500 graduates were recognized, bringing the total number of UW Oshkosh graduates in 2012 to nearly 2,600.