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Photo by Shawn McAfee, Learning Technologies

Graduating class speaker Nathan Michael, a supply chain and operations management major from Racine, urged his peers to remain humble while tackling the challenges that lie ahead at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh’s midyear commencement ceremony Dec. 18.

Here is a transcript of his speech:

“I would like to start by thanking Chancellor Wells, Provost Earns, faculty, family and friends. It is appropriate that we give thanks on this date, as today marks the 233rd anniversary of the first Thanksgiving. And while I have no doubt that my fellow UW Oshkosh graduates will justly celebrate this grand accomplishment — considering some of us chose to begin celebrating last night — it will serve us well to remember the appreciation we all share for the unwavering support we have received from faculty, family and friends, without whom, none of us would be here today.

“So, let us take advantage of this occasion by channeling our appreciation to those individuals who have always been there for us. Through the thick and thin, good times and bad, their steady guidance has lifted us, even as we stumble. When all is lost, and we are left alone with the humility of defeat, the confidence that these individuals have in us reminds us how to believe in ourselves once again.

“Today, these selfless acts of giving do not go unnoticed or unappreciated. Today, we recognize that we did not arrive at this place alone. Today, the audience surrounds us graduates, reminding us of the support we have had all along and of the support we will continue to have going forward. Many of us here today, can attribute our success to our families.

“And now, I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge my parents, Rick and Beth Michael. You have always believed in me, no matter what crazy ideas I got in my head. I can’t possibly thank the two of you enough. I couldn’t have made it here today without you, and I love you both very much.

“On campus, there are those individuals — faculty and friends, mentors and roommates — that have made UW Oshkosh our home away from home. Let us take this time to direct our appreciation to these individuals, many of whom are in the audience today. Our college experience would not have been the same without them, and our times spent together at Oshkosh will always be remembered.

“For me, I would like to recognize the Assistant Dean of Students, Debbie Gray Patton. I have never met anyone more passionate about helping others without expecting anything in return. Debbie is a difference maker, and we are all fortunate to have her as a part of our UW Oshkosh community; so, on behalf of the student body, I would like to thank Debbie for all that she does, as well as extend a special thank you to all of the difference makers in the UW Oshkosh community.

“Together, you make this community what it is today, as well as shape what this University will become tomorrow. Thank you all for making such a profound impact in the lives of the graduates here today. Thank you!

“I am extremely honored in being selected as the commencement speaker for the graduating class of January 2011. My experience through the selection process exposed me to three tremendous individuals, and although my interaction with the other commencement speaker finalists has been limited, I can’t help but marvel in what these individuals have accomplished over their college careers.

“I encourage you all to take a minute to listen to their departing messages, which are posted on the UW Oshkosh commencement webpage. It could easily have been any one of them standing up here today, and I am extremely humbled to represent such an inspiring field of individuals. Please join me in recognizing Amy Gearhart, Andy Hathaway and Marvi Verma.

“When I first decided to apply to speak at commencement, I thought that 11 semesters at college would give me plenty to talk about … then, I started writing my speech and I was overcome with humility. As I sat there at my laptop, the blank word document before, I realized just how difficult this was going to be. I had no idea where to begin … which, in some way, is a feeling that most of us share today … ‘Where do we begin?’

“The potential our generation possesses is astounding. Some say, that we 20-somethings, will be the most influential generation since the civil rights movement. But with this potential come great expectations. During the 1960s, while Dr. King dreamt of a world without prejudice, President Kennedy captured our imaginations by putting a man on the moon. In the 1970s, women were given the right to choose, and Bill Gates launched a financial empire.

“The 1980s reunited German brethren divided by a wall, while the ’90s connected us all on the World Wide Web. In 2001, as the Twin Towers fell, we stood united, and just two years ago, in 2008, we elected the first African-American as President of the United States … so, how will future generations define us?

“As I stand here today, addressing just a small fraction of my generation, I am again humbled by the daunting tasks ahead of us; however, I am comforted by the determination my peers exhibit before me. While many of us will fail and then fail some more, we understand that the history books will not recount the obstacles we overcome on a day-to-day basis, but we also understand that personal pride can no longer hinder our collective progress.

“My fellow graduates, it is our generation that is challenged with discovering a cure for cancer and AIDS. It is our generation that is challenged with eliminating our dependence on non-renewable resources and reversing global warming. It is our generation that is challenged with globally eradicating genocide based on race, religion or sexual orientation. It is our generation that is challenged with preserving international relations while combating nuclear proliferation.

“Yet, it is our generation, in the face of all these challenges, that is standing and saying … ‘Bring it!’

“So, here we are. An uncertain future awaits us, but let us not find fear in the unknown; rather, let us find inspiration in the words of Winston Churchill. Now, ironically, Winston Churchill was a poor English student, taking him three years to graduate from the eighth grade, but some time later, he was asked to speak at the commencement ceremony of prestigious Oxford University, when his limited English ability again came to light, reciting only five words: ‘Never, never, never give up!’

“As we go forward today, let us be wary of the obstacles that may humble us along the way, but let our humility strengthen us as we persevere. Now, let’s get to work.”

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