Dana Giannelli, an elementary education major, offered the following remarks at University of Wisconsin Oshkosh’s 2017 spring commencement afternoon ceremony. Giannelli graduates from the College of Education and Human Services.
“I want to start by extending my sincere congratulations to fellow classmates who will be crossing this stage today. And by welcoming all of the parents, professors, partners, family, friends, and guests who are here to support them. It is an honor to speak as your representative today.
“A simple word on the surface, but similar to the depths of the ocean, it is much more complex. Water connects us…All of us.
“Lake Winnebago, the largest lake in Wisconsin, is where UW Oshkosh receives its drinking water from. Shout out to Dr. Rowland’s History 201 class freshman year for that fun fact!
“Water also connects us through distance. The Fox River, located right next to campus, is 202 miles, and travels all the way down to Illinois, which is where I happen to be from. I will just say it now because I know you all are wondering. Yes, I am a Bears fan and yes, it has been a rough few years.
“It is said time is like a river where you cannot touch the same water twice because what has passed will never pass again. So before we look ahead, let’s look back.
“I’m sure we can all remember bits and pieces of our campus tours. Or, if you didn’t take one, our first moments on campus. For me, I can still vividly recall the rush of passion and hope I felt when touring during an April blizzard. (Gotta love those Wisconsin winters!) Everything blew me away. The cost of tuition. The academic rigor. Interim. The University Honors Program. No other school compared to what UWO brought to the table. I was ready to start the next chapter of my life.
“But like many of us, the first chapter didn’t go quite like I planned. My first semester was tough, and some of you might know the feeling. I knew who I was in high school, but I had yet to discover who I wanted to be. I had curiosity, but did not know where to channel my energy quite yet.
“The new waters of college were exciting, but I started to drown. It was not until Jill Endries, the former Director of Admissions, and Drew Kopitzke, the nonresident admissions counselor, threw me a life vest.
“I started working for the admissions office and rediscovered the same passion, excitement, and love I felt for UW Oshkosh on my first tour. I’m sure at some point or another, all of us had someone on campus who gave us their hand when we needed it most. That person who taught us to swim, or float, to enjoy the college experience and get us to this day.
“When you finally learn how to swim and navigate the waters of college, you gain independence. I know we’ve all come a long way from the days of not knowing how to work the washer and dryer in the residence halls—but you’re here today because you conquered the challenges of independence, and gained the self-confidence to believe in your strengths and improve upon your weaknesses.
“Raise your hand if you ever felt stressed at some point during your time here. If you’re not raising your hand, you’ll have to tell me your secrets after the ceremony. In all honesty, every single person graduating here today probably felt up to their chins in exams, responsibilities, and life at one point.
“For education student’s it might have been the edTPA, for business majors it could’ve been your accounting and QBA courses, for human services majors, it was probably your 280-hour advanced internship, and for nursing students well…don’t get me started.
“Sometimes, you probably felt pretty tired. Maybe you wanted to quit. But you didn’t. You conquered and persevered. And in the words of the great Dory, you Just Kept Swimming. And along the way, I’m sure you saw some incredible things. Made meaningful memories. Developed friendships with the people you’re snapping from your graduation seats. And ate a ton of buffalo chicken wraps — probably more than we care to admit.
“I’ve been referencing water throughout this entire speech as sort of a metaphor for our time here. From the literal lakes and rivers near campus, to the feelings of swimming or drowning through adversity. But now, today, we look to the future.
“Like water, we’re not destined to stay in the same spot forever. Maybe not even in the same form. But regardless of the form we take, it is our task to take the life, energy, and knowledge we’ve gained here, and use it to provide life and energy to those who need it most.
“We live during some difficult times, there is no doubt about that. But we proved that together, we can survive. We need to continue to learn from one another and grow together. We need to use the liberal education provided by UW Oshkosh to keep our eyes clear and our critical lense focused.
“As I dip my toes into the real world and walk out of Kolf Sports Center today, a graduate of the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, I look around at this campus, at this community, and at this city as my home.
“Congratulations Class of 2017. I’m so honored and proud to be here with you today. Ride the wave of life, good luck, and do great things!”