Commencement at UW Oshkosh brought hugs and smiles, the straightening of commencement caps and gowns and a montage of moments — including hundreds of pauses and poses for “selfies” with family, friends, faculty and staff.
The day also brought on a flood of emotions–excitement, pride and hope for future opportunities. Students–who Saturday became among the more than 83,000 UW Oshkosh alumni–reflected on their majors, lessons learned and future plans.
Brad Spanbauer, who graduated with a master’s degree in science will begin teaching at UW Oshkosh this summer. He said he feels the UW Oshkosh graduate degree program exposed him to a rigorous curriculum that gave him a very sound understanding of his field. Spanbauer also earned his undergraduate degree from UW Oshkosh, he said.
“I chose UW Oshkosh for my master’s because you can tell the faculty have a passion for their work,” he said. “They really cared about all of us and are enjoyable to be around. It was nice to be in a program where you saw people working in their field.”
Amanda Adam, who graduated with a degree in religious studies, said she picked a major she deeply cared about.
“You can get a job with any degree. Just make sure you like what you are studying,” said Adam, who hopes to someday become a pastor. She said her interest in history and religion led her toward her major.
For others, graduation day is about completing something important. Mandy Eggert, who graduated with a major in kinesiology, said commencement was especially important to her because it was “my second time in college.” Eggert said during her first try in college, she didn’t pick a major she enjoyed.
“The important thing was to realize what I wanted to do with my life and pursue it. That’s really important for college students to realize,” said Eggert, who this summer will begin an internship in a field she loves.
Michelle Jensen’s is similar story about the often winding road to completion.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine it would take me 27 years to complete my bachelor’s degree,” said Jansen, who, while unable to attend commencement, was ecstatic she earned her degree through UW Oshkosh. Jansen lives outside of Salt Lake City, Utah and earned her degree through the University’s online Human Services Leadership program. Her first college course was in the fall of 1987 and, since that time, her educational journey has zigzagged through five colleges, she said.
“I just got my tassle today, and I was marching through the house going…,” she said, breaking into the commencement processional during a phone interview. “This degree is so important to me.”
Obtaining the degree was also important to education majors Katie Zeamer and Nichelle Konczak. Both said “accomplished” was the best way to describe what they were feeling on commencement day.
“My advice: Keep pushing through. There were a lot of times I didn’t know if I’d get to the end, get to graduation,” said Zeamer, who switched majors along the way. “It took me six years, but I did it and I’m happy.”
Graduate Sarah Wood, who studied kinesiology, said it’s important to get involved.
“Try to get involved with your major as much as you can. Meet a lot of professionals, and grow close to your professors and classmates in the program,” she said.
Along with all the feelings of pride and accomplishment, graduation day is also a reminder that one life chapter is coming to an end.
“I’m really going to miss the college life at UW Oshkosh,” said Josh Lockwood, who studied supply chain management. “But, I’m finally done and I’m proud I made it through. UW Oshkosh gave me the confidence I need to go out into the real world.”
Well-wishes, advice and congratulations offered by commencement speakers
Commencement speakers–including faculty and student speakers, state representatives and UW System Regents–offered the 2014 graduates well-wishes for the future and sincere congratulations.
“Your experience here at Oshkosh has prepared you for the future. This gym is filled with talent,” said State Representative Gordon Hintz to a packed Kolf Sports Center during the morning ceremony.
Morning student commencement speaker Courtney Reynolds, who graduated with a degree in music industry, shared inspirational thoughts with her graduating class as well as an original song.
“All along the way, we sought great opportunities and faced significant challenges. We joined teams and got involved in organizations, we gave our efforts to causes we believe in….We explored the culture of the city with friends old and new, and we found ways to contribute to the community using our talents,” she said. “…It’s so important for us to remember all of these things, because who we are and where we are is a result of the journey that led us here.”
Afternoon student class speaker Rebecca Olson, who graduated with a degree in nursing, encouraged her fellow graduates to say “yes.”
“Remember, at one time, every one of your mentors, every professor, every CEO, superintendent, CNO and even the President of the United States, was not all that different from you. What sets these accomplished individuals apart from the rest, what got them their positions, is that they just said yes-–again and again-–to possibilities that led to open doors they never even imagined when they said their first yes,” she said.
Commencement celebrations personal, emotional for graduates
In the lead up to Saturday’s commencement ceremonies, colleges, programs and departments held small, personal gatherings to celebrate specific groups of graduates.
On Friday, May 16, the Professional Counseling Hooding ceremony was held at Reeve Memorial Union while the the pinning ceremony for the College of Nursing’s accelerated nursing program took place at the new Alumni Welcome and Conference Center (AWCC) and the MBA Graduation Banquet was held at the Oshkosh Premier Waterfront Hotel downtown.
The traditional, annual Golden Titan reunion was also held May 17. The Class of 1964 was on campus to reconnect with former classmates and celebrate 50 years since graduation. The Golden Titans also participated in a luncheon and Saturday’s commencement ceremony. For the first time in history, the Golden Titans awarded the Golden Titan Endowed Scholarship; the recipient: Samuel Mehlberg, a first-generation college student from Green Bay with a double major in economics and supply chain/operation management.
Milestone commencement for 10th UW Oshkosh Chancellor
While students were celebrating their milestones, Provost Lane Earns and other speakers acknowledged a significant University milestone– Chancellor Richard H. Wells’ last commencement before he retires in August. Wells has spent 14 years as UW Oshkosh chancellor.
“Chancellor Wells, you will be missed,” said a choked up UW System Regent Regina Millner.
Wells will officially retire on Aug. 31 as UW Oshkosh’s 10th and third-longest-serving chancellor. Appointed in 2000, he helped nurture nearly annual record growth in student enrollment and degrees awarded each year. He also helped envision, plan for and carry out a remarkable expansion and modernization of Wisconsin’s third-largest university. Wells helped inspire a transformation of the University’s reputation and its educational and economic impact in the Oshkosh community, the New North region and the state of Wisconsin.
At both commencement ceremonies, Wells awarded honorary doctorate degrees and Chancellor’s Medallions t0 an accomplished and collaborative group of state legislators, community leaders and a multifacted artist who has become an inspirational force for budding musicians, writers, painters and other UW Oshkosh creatives.
At the end of both spring commencement ceremonies, Wells–for the first time in his career–asked the class of 2014 to welcome him as an honorary member of their class. As a show of support, the request earned a standing ovation from the entire class of 2014.