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With all of the pomp and excitement that goes with graduation — awards, speeches, caps and gowns — it can be easy to overlook the underlying reason for the ceremony: celebrating the students who have reached their academic destination.

Among the more than 1,000 University of Wisconsin Oshkosh undergraduate and graduate students who received their degrees Saturday, Dec. 15, at Kolf Sports Center, are four far-from-ordinary individuals whose stories are not only a tribute to their own discipline and determination, but also a source of pride for the University.

UW Oshkosh campus leader will leave behind legacy of achievement

Some UW Oshkosh students take extracurricular activities to the extreme. A winner of the 2007 Chancellor’s Leadership Award, Jennifer Thomas serves as an example of how a university is more than the sum of its classrooms. As an Oshkosh Student Association senator, Thomas, of Deerfield, was instrumental in the reauthorization of differential tuition, which includes enhanced advising, career development and counseling and tutoring services on campus. It’s little wonder that her internship with Virchow Krause, a business consultant company based in Appleton, has evolved into a promising, full-time career.

Nursing student won’t let workplace conflict ‘bar’ her from graduating

Reserve Officer Training Corps Cadet Toni Borchardt has met more than her fair share of obstacles en route to graduation day. After four and a half years in the ROTC program — and poised to be commissioned as a 2nd Lt. on Dec. 14 — the nursing student almost didn’t complete her clinic hours because of a lockdown at Waupun Correctional Institution, where she worked. Borchardt, of Cambridge, had to transfer to a different prison and will complete the required clinic hours a mere two days before commencement.

Single mother prepared to give back to the school that gave her so much

At UW Oshkosh’s 43rd Midyear Commencement, graduating class speaker Carla Roberts shared some of the sacrifices she made to reach a goal “20 years in the making.” A single mother of two sons, Roberts depended on the support of her family, the faculty and financial gifts. To show her gratitude, she already has set up her own scholarship fund for special education majors.

Program helps nontraditional student re-enroll, complete her degree

Brenda Hallman, 47, of Berlin, was three credits shy of earning a bachelor’s degree in accounting when “life got in the way” and interrupted her education. Thanks to the Graduation Project, Hallman and seven other re-enrolled students will reach their academic destination on Saturday, are ready to enter a workforce that more than ever before demands a degree of its employees.