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Every graduate set to walk Saturday as part of the 2023 University of Wisconsin Oshkosh midyear commencement class has a story to tell. Jackie Runge’s journey is one of perseverance and sheer determination.

The 34-year-old Fond du Lac native, graduating with a master of business administration degree, has had a lot to overcome as a young adult. Just as she started a technical college program in 2011, she suffered a stroke that resulted from a hole in her heart sending a blood clot to her brain.

When she woke up in intensive care, she felt confused but angry, knowing life as she knew it had been stripped away. Her family did not understand the severity of the situation and asked when she could come home and about going back to school.

“The doctor, I’m sure out of frustration and trying to be as realistic as possible said there is a great chance she will never go back, her life may not look the same again,” Runge recalled. “As time went on, it became clear that everyone around me was agreeing with the doctors. It was a fair assumption given the condition I was in. I walked with a cane and struggled with speech. But I was determined not to let it ruin what I imagined my life to be.”

She hung onto the doctor’s words and decided she would go back to school—no matter how long it took her to earn her bachelor’s degree. And she vowed not to stop until she earned a master’s in her field.

“It became a redemption path that I knew I needed to stay on,” she said. “In some ways, I think I was sure earning my master’s would confirm that I had taken my life back.”

She’s fought through memory gaps, mobility deficits on the left side of her body and aphasia—a condition in which she lost the ability to properly translate speech.

Runge earned a bachelor’s degree in leadership and organizational studies from UWO in spring 2020, after earning an associate degree at Moraine Park Technical College. She chose UWO because she wanted a local school with a reputation of developing career successful professionals and with a strong hybrid program so she could continue her career path and health focus while getting her education.

Some of her mentors graduated from UWO and she admired their leadership. Attending UWO, she said, became a part of her plan because of the school’s ties to the people she valued most in her career as clubhouse manager of South Hills Golf & Country Club in Fond du Lac.

“I found a way to take my situation and use it as the fuel to keep moving forward, and here I am, finally at the finish line! All I can say is if you really want to do something, don’t let anything stand in your way—you only get one life so live it marvelously,” she advised. “Regrets aren’t worth having.”

Runge will proudly walk across the stage, with her husband and children, grandma and aunt in the crowd, to witness and celebrate her remarkable achievement.

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