Graduating class speaker Melanie Stepanek, a journalism major from Oshkosh, emphasized that graduation is only one of many victories in store for the class of 2010 at the morning ceremony of the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh’s May 15 commencement.
Here is a transcript of her speech:
“Good morning, Chancellor, Provost, faculty, friends, family and fellow graduates. It’s an exciting opportunity to be able to speak with you all.
“Not long ago, a man named George Wright found himself working in marketing for a little-known blender company. He was faced with the daunting task of making expensive home blenders attractive …on a $50 budget.
“He spent weeks debating what to do. Traditional methods seemed to be ineffective to showcase the blender’s powerful capabilities. However, in the course of walking through the demo area one afternoon, he saw some woodchips piled up on the floor.
“‘What’s that doing on the floor?’ he asked.
“‘Oh, that’s just from Tom testing the blender with a two by four.’
“In a revolutionary connection of thought, Mr. Wright conceived a campaign idea that would change the company forever. He would take unlikely items, such as iPods and golf clubs, and place them in the blender, turn it on and reduce them to debris. These entertaining blender moments would be displayed to the delight of hundreds of millions of Internet viewers.
“The idea took off. Within a year, sales of the blender skyrocketed 700 percent.
“Mr. Wright spoke to Oshkosh students about a month ago, and at the conclusion of his presentation he paused and said, ‘You know, all that stuff is great. I’m proud of my success and what it’s done for the company, but I’ve decided to move on. I’m starting with a small grill company and am looking forward to new challenges.’
“We all stared at each other in disbelief. Why would he want to leave his blender empire? Hadn’t he achieved the recognition for which we all strive? Wasn’t he at the peak?
“I was impressed at his determination. But, really, his experience is strikingly similar to our own.
“Today, we gather to celebrate a peak experience in our lives. We have faced unique challenges on the way to this moment. For many of us, the strength to conquer the obstacles along the way has been fueled by others.
“Graduates, I want to invite each of you to take a moment to reflect on the motivations that have brought you to this pinnacle.
“What is your sawdust? What in your life has inspired you?
“Is it your family? The loved ones who have made sacrifices throughout life to see you through to this day?
“Is it your friends? The people who would literally drive across the country for you if you needed them or pour coffee down your throat during a late-night study session at Polk?
“Is it a dream of what could be? People or needs or ideas that are yet to be, except in your imagination?
“You need to see your sawdust and draw inspiration from your family, friends and future dreams to move forward from this peak experience to your next challenge.
“Like Mr. Wright, we have been inspired, and we have succeeded. But this isn’t the pinnacle of our lives. It is wonderful — absolutely — but college graduation is not the final high point before a lifetime of lows. We are gathered here to celebrate, enjoy our success and move on to new challenges.
“And we are ready. Our education at UW Oshkosh has given us the critical-thinking skills we need to adapt and overcome challenges. We are equipped with the ability to create, cultivate and command our futures.
“Mr. Wright did not rest on his laurels and coast through the remainder of his career riding the tide of one victory. Neither should we.
“We have to continue to notice the sawdust, knowing that with each new experience comes an opportunity for continued learning so that life may be vibrant and fulfilling.
“A lot of perspiration and persistence have gone into building this solid foundation for our future. It has been exhausting, but I implore you not to remain idle. You’ve come so far. Don’t stop learning now: There is a whole world out there for you to discover.
“We are entering a new world that seems intimidating in some ways, but it is also a world of opportunity, a world in need of our well-developed minds and a world in which learning cannot be confined to a calendar.
“So while we are not in blender sales, and although we have varying degrees of tolerance for sawdust, opportunities for continued growth surround us in the places we may least expect. By using our education, we can ensure that this day will be just one of many remarkable experiences in our lives.
“Esteemed guests, parents, family, faculty and friends — thank you for all you have given to enable us to meet the challenge of learning that has brought us to this peak in our lives.
“Congratulations, my fellow graduates. I’m truly honored to graduate with such a talented group of people. Together, let us look forward to new challenges!”
More commencement coverage:
- May graduate is youngest fire chief in the U.S. (4/30/10)
- UWO honors national leader in higher education (5/5/10)
- 1,200 students set to graduate May 15 (5/10/10)
- Commencement speakers optimistic about future (5/11/10)
- UW Oshkosh honors 17 graduating seniors with Chancellor’s Award for Excellence (5/13/10)
- Keynote speaker: Rehearsal is over; life begins (5/15/10)
- Class speaker: ‘You need to see your sawdust’ (5/15/10)
- Keynote speaker: Transitions are time to reflect, learn (5/15/10)
- Class speaker: Graduation is a prelude to future excellence (5/15/10)
- Seen on campus: May 2010 commencement (5/15/10)
- Seen on campus: Class of 1960 alumni luncheon (5/17/10)