Under the gaze of several thousands of eyes, more than 1,000 University of Wisconsin Oshkosh graduates will receive their diplomas Dec. 14.
And although that task of standing before all of the graduates and their families and friends seems a bit daunting, one soon-to-be UW Oshkosh graduate volunteered to lengthen her stage time to five minutes in order to share her own insights with her fellow classmates.
That graduate is Ashley Sinks.
Sinks, who is graduating with a degree in communication, has been awarded the privilege of speaking at the 49th Midyear Commencement Ceremony at UW Oshkosh.
“I thought ‘why not? It can’t hurt.’ So I edited my ideas from an old speech from a class,” Sinks said. “I am definitely practicing a lot, and, being a communication major, all of my presentations have definitely helped me prepare for something like this.”
Sinks’ inspiration came from a class taught by UW Oshkosh communication studies Professor Tony Palmeri, who assigned an after-dinner speech assignment. Students had to compose a formal speech and address the audience like they were at a celebratory event.
“This is the same assignment that Anthony Miller used for his speech (in May). Now, it is the second semester in a row that a communication major is the commencement speaker,” Palmeri said. “Our major’s slogan is ‘finding your voice,’ and when we see communication majors applying to speak at commencement, the message has gotten through, and once they are selected, it’s an added bonus.”
Palmeri said he was surprised because Sinks was one of the more quiet students in his class who he always encouraged to be more outspoken. When he found out Sinks was speaking at commencement, Palmeri said was glad to see she took his advice. Palmeri was also glad to be reminded that the program is getting through to students.
“I’m thrilled for Ashley. She’s very thoughtful and considerate of her audiences’ needs. I’m confident that she will have a good message for everyone in the audience, including the family and faculty there,” Palmeri said.
The selection committee chose Sinks for her presentation style and how well she was able to connect the speech to the audience by making it relatable to everyday life. The committee thought Sinks put a great deal of work into her presentation.
“Her speech was very thoughtful and engaging on multiple levels. She uses something so simple, yet so complicated that can be used to relate the experiences of her classmates and those around her was very intriguing,” said Rinardo Reddick, UW Oshkosh assistant Dean of Students.
Communication professor Jennifer Considine helped Sinks brainstorm ideas for her speech and said Sinks’ energy and excitement is contagious and in class she does a great job of getting the audience pumped up.
“The communication department is incredibly excited for Ashley. It is excellent experience for her. It is a challenge for anyone to take on and address an audience at such an important moment. She definitely has the experience she needs,” Considine said.
Sinks said Considine was one of the most impactful people in helping her come up with her idea for her speech. Along with Considine, Sinks said Professor Joseph Gemin was another one of her favorite teachers because he used out-of-the-box thinking, inspiring her while she put her speech together.
This inspiration led Sinks to finally apply for the role of UW Oshkosh commencement speaker, even though in high school she applied to be the graduation speaker and didn’t get the gig. Now, Sinks will address an audience at one of the most visible, public-facing UW Oshkosh events.
Sinks said she can’t wait to experience the once in a lifetime moment with all of UW Oshkosh. She also said she can’t wait to give her speech and say farewell to everyone at the University.
Upon graduation, Sinks has high hopes of going to a big city like New York or Chicago to find a job, she said.
“Graduating is bittersweet for me. I’m finally doing all the things I’ve been dreaming of doing. There is also fear of the unknown and I’m going to miss my friends. It will be different making big life choices,” Sinks said.
Commencement speaker runner up
While it’s not easy coming in second, Tammy Rusch is still glad to be recognized as the runner-up commencement speaker.
Rusch is graduating with a duo major in special education and elementary education. When she graduates she hopes to find a job in teaching because she is very passionate about it.
Because the commencement day speaker is such a crucial part of UW Oshkosh’s ceremony, Rusch must still be ready to take the stage in the event Sinks cannot. And she is ready.
“I was hoping to surprise my family on graduation day by being the speaker. I told them that I’m the runner-up and they are still super excited for me. I also let them know that I gave 110 percent but the actual speaker must have given 111 percent,” Rusch said.