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More than 1,000 graduate and undergraduate students will receive degrees at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh’s 46th midyear commencement ceremony Saturday, Dec. 18.

Chancellor Richard H. Wells will confer diplomas to the graduating students at 9:30 a.m. at Kolf Sports Center, 785 High Ave. State Representative Gordon Hintz and Michael Falbo of the UW System Board of Regents will participate in the ceremony. A reception will follow for the faculty, new alumni, and their parents and guests in the center’s lower level.

Nathan Michael, a supply chain and operations management major from Racine, will serve as class speaker, addressing the importance of gratitude and humility as well as challenges that lie ahead for the class of 2010. The keynote address, given by John Koker, a mathematics professor and dean of the College of Letters and Science, will focus on problem solving.

During the ceremony, the University will award an honorary doctorate to Muriel A. Howard, president of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, for her leadership in advancing state-supported institutions, such as UW Oshkosh.

Among the more than 1,000 students who will graduate Dec. 18 are a cancer survivor who has already been offered a job as a registered nurse, a communication major who will pursue a career in motivational speaking in spite of speech and learning disabilities, and a first-generation college student who was inspired to return to higher education after her teenage daughter announced she wanted to be a trophy wife when she grew up.

Here are the stories of eight exceptional grads:

Battle with cancer doesn’t stop graduate from reaching goal

Stephanie Pink, a 26-year-old nursing student from Monroe, endured nine months of chemotherapy, one month of radiation and a stem cell transplant to combat bone cancer and leukemia throughout her academic career at UW Oshkosh. After her diagnosis in 2006, Pink took a total of two and half years off from courses to battle the diseases. Faculty and staff members, including College of Nursing lecturer Becky Cleveland, encouraged Pink to look to the future and continue her education.

After returning to UW Oshkosh to become a registered nurse, Pink became an intern at Theda Clark Medical Center and, since, has been offered a position in the center’s cardiac and orthopedic sectors in Neenah. She will graduate Dec. 18 with a Bachelor of Science in nursing.

Interaction with faculty, campus involvement prompts poli-sci major to go on to grad school

Amy Gearhart chose UW Oshkosh because she knew she would be given the opportunity to grow through independent study, study abroad, athletics and student organizations — and she took advantage of all of those outlets.

Gearhart, 21, of Salem, will graduate with a degree in political science and religious studies. She credits her experiences in Tracy Slagter’s “International Organizations” course for solidifying her academic path and is grateful for Druscilla Scribner, who gave her the confidence to pursue graduate school. A finalist for commencement speaker, Gearhart said her political science coursework taught her valuable skills that she used while serving as a county board supervisor.

Mom inspires graduate to become motivational speaker

After “stumbling across” UW Oshkosh while leafing through college brochures, Andy Hathaway, 22, of Quincy, Mass., decided to give the University a chance.

“After my first year, I found that the communication department was one of the most influential and inspiring departments and continued my studies there,” Hathaway said.

But he also found inspiration in his mother’s work with autistic children and her positive outlook.

“It is my mother’s determination, love and inspiration that taught me that we have the power to make a difference in this world and that it is up to us to lend that helping hand,” said Hathaway, who has speech and learning disabilities.

A finalist for class speaker, he will graduate with a degree in communication and plans to pursue a career in motivational speaking.

Human service major takes passion for cause to a professional level

After graduating Dec. 18, Eric Salzwedel, of Columbus, will continue to build on his leadership and human service experiences through a full-time district office manager position and continue fundraising efforts for the Muscular Dystrophy (MD) Association.

One of Salzwedel’s career goals is to become an event coordinator for a nonprofit organization or even start a nonprofit himself. He also wants to provide motivational and inspirational speeches to schools throughout the U.S.

“I have such a passion for helping people, and I guess my whole philosophy of doing so much for others is that if you’re in their position or situation, wouldn’t you want someone to help you?” Salzwedel said.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in human services, Salzwedel plans to continue MD fundraising efforts within the Oshkosh community, including the MD Bowl-a-thon, for years to come.

“It’s important to give back, whether it’s your money, time or skills,” he said.

No ‘trophy wife’ aspirations for this nontraditional student

Sarah Koenigs, 40, from Fond du Lac, will be the first of her family to graduate from college, but it has not been an easy journey.

During her first semester at UW Oshkosh, Koenigs 15-year-old daughter was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. Caring for her daughter, working a full-time job and attending college took their toll, but Koenig knew she had to stick with it, for her sake and her daughter’s.

“One day, someone asked my little girl what she wanted to be when she grew up. She replied, ‘A trophy wife,’” Koenigs said. “I wanted to show my daughter that she had other options.”

That conversation convinced Koenigs, who had dropped out of high school and married young, to pursue her high school equivalency diploma and higher education.

“I set a goal of graduating by my milestone birthday and have accomplished that,” said Koenigs, who will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in organizational administration from UW Oshkosh’s Center for New Learning.

Pre-med student excelled inside and ‘beyond’ the classroom

Marvi Verma, 21, of Kaukauna, set high expectations for herself on her path to a degree in biology/pre-medicine.

“I knew that being a pre-medical student was not going to be easy, but I could not see myself fail,” Verma said. “I wanted to make it through the obstacles, I wanted to surpass my expectations and I wanted to succeed.”

Verma’s involvement with testing bacteria levels at 34 different beaches in conjunction with the Environmental Protection Agency was highlighted at the November “Beyond Classroom Walls” event. A finalist for class speaker, she said her advice to students is to set goals and take advantage of extra-curricular activities offered at UW Oshkosh.

Setting early goals helped graduate attain a career fresh out of college

Ashley Romenesko, of Hortonville, started setting goals for herself at a young age. The December graduate knew she was going to have to pay for college on her own and started saving at 14, determined not to take out school loans.

As a freshman, Romenesko continued to set goals for herself to get involved on campus and develop her resume. Romenesko joined marketing club and served as an official early on, gaining valuable leadership skills. Her participation in marketing club and other groups on campus helped her get three internships and more recently, a full-time job offer from Oshkosh Corp.

“The skills obtained through these experiences have directly impacted my performance at work and have helped me to have a successful college career and internships,” Romensko said.

She will graduate with degrees in marketing and human resources and is a recipient of the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence.

Student returns to UW Oshkosh after 17 years to achieve her goal

Colleen Monroe, 37, has had a long time to think about the positive impact of higher education. After leaving the UW Oshkosh in 1993, she always wanted to return to college and earn her degree. One semester and two courses later, Monroe will achieve her goal, thanks to the Graduation Project, which helps “stopped-out” students return to the University.

Monroe has used her return to college as a chance to connect with her 4-year-old daughter and explore possible areas of study. She will be awarded an associate degree from UW Oshkosh at the December commencement ceremony and will return to UW Oshkosh next semester to accomplish her ultimate aim of attaining a bachelor’s degree.

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