Office of the President
Kevin P. Reilly, President, University of Wisconsin System
May 19, 2005
It is an honor to make my first official visit to this campus on such an auspicious occasion. I have been here before, but not since being appointed President last September. From briefly touring the campus this afternoon, I must say UW “Manty” really is “cooler by the lake.” I am impressed that any studying gets done on such a beautiful campus. It does, doesn’t it?
I’m reminded by this occasion of the adage about the similarity between a commencement speaker and the corpse at an old-fashioned Irish wake: They need you there to have a party, but they don’t expect you say much. Well, I’ll try not to say too much, but being Irish, and still very much awake, I have a few words to add to this commencement celebration.
Graduates, my heartfelt congratulations to each and every one of you for your accomplishments. And congratulations to your families! As a wise and perhaps underpaid, professor once said, “Your families are extremely proud of you. You can't imagine the sense of relief they are experiencing today. This would be a most opportune time to ask for money.”
I am honored to publicly acknowledge all that you have accomplished in your college career. As President of the UW System, watching all of you take the next steps in your lives is extremely satisfying. I, too, am celebrating a graduation of sorts, as I am coming to the end of my first year as President. Like yours, mine has been both a challenging, and a rewarding experience. So, I am delighted to share with you some of my thoughts as we both enter the next phase of our respective futures.
In planning my remarks for this evening, I did a little research on the history of commencement speeches. I discovered that the longest commencement address was delivered at Harvard University in the mid-nineteenth century. That address lasted six hours—three hours in Latin and three hours in Greek—and, at the end, the students were given a test! I promise you, there will be no Greek, no Latin – and no tests today! And, a little over six hours from now, we’ll all be home in bed!
While you may not have studied Greek or Latin, your accomplishments on this campus are a testament to the value and importance of having an opportunity to earn a two-year college degree. The UW Colleges exist as an all-important gateway of access to higher education for many of our citizens, especially those who represent the first generation of their family to attend college.
Many of tonight’s graduates have inspiring stories to tell about overcoming significant obstacles to earn their associate degree, whether it is a language barrier, learning limitations, or financing your own higher education. Let me mention just two of those students.
Scott Everson is a returning adult student who lost his job at a bank when his position was downsized. He decided to return to school to pursue a degree in elementary education. Not content to simply attend class and earn his degree, Scott became actively involved in campus life as a tutor at the writing lab, a member of the Spanish club, and President of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society.
Lucas Wernecke served in the armed forces as a Marine before enrolling as a UW-Manitowoc student. During his time here, he overcame an ACL injury to lead the Men’s basketball team to its first Wisconsin Junior College Athletic Association state championship.
Scott and Lucas are just two of the outstanding individuals seated in this theatre tonight. Each of you has a story of accomplishment that represents what is best about the UW System -- our ability to provide students from all walks of life the opportunity to pursue their dreams and to further their personal development.
During a commencement address delivered decades ago by Adlai Stevenson, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and Democratic nominee for President, Stevenson discussed the importance of the “educated citizen,” and why critical reflection and debate are necessary for a democratic society to flourish. As graduates of this fine institution, you not only earn the title of graduate, and your diploma as proof of your talent, but also the responsibility to serve as an “educated citizen.” You now have a greater responsibility to put your education to use for the betterment of the people around you. The University of Wisconsin System flourished under the concept that the boundaries of the university should be the boundaries of the state. This “Wisconsin Idea” was developed by Charles Van Hise, UW President from 1903 to 1918, who declared that he would “never be content until the beneficent influence of the university reaches every family in the state.” Today, the Wisconsin Idea calls us to extend our boundaries beyond the state to the global community.
As members of the UW System, we have a responsibility to give back to our communities in return for the knowledge, time, and energy that others have invested in us. Our most important contribution to the state, after all, is the 160,000 students we educate, and the 30,000 students, like you, who receive degrees each year from the UW System.
But the investments we make in Wisconsin communities do not stop there. Our graduates, faculty, staff, and students all do their part to carry the work of the UW System across the state, and beyond. Every day, hundreds of businesses throughout Wisconsin, large and small, improve what they do and how they do it, thanks to UW faculty and staff expertise, and the work of the UW graduates they employ. Our robust academic research enterprise is helping to enhance the lives of Wisconsin citizens and help to grow the state’s economy. The Wisconsin Technology Council released a report late last year that illuminated the tremendous impact of academic research and development on Wisconsin’s economy -- academic research and development creates more than 30,000 jobs, and generates more than $800 million for Wisconsin’s economy, each year!
You are proof of the UW System’s commitment to developing global citizenship and enlightened thinkers. I hope you’ve enjoyed the many opportunities here at UW-Manitowoc to enrich yourselves by participating in the liberal arts, whether through foreign languages, philosophy, dance, poetry, or the wonderful Lakeshore Wind Ensemble. We are in the business of developing critical thinkers, who are able to actively engage not only in the labor market, but also in our civic society.
As graduates, you will use these academic and critical thinking skills to contribute great things to the state, the nation, and the world. A common misperception is that the state of Wisconsin suffers from what is called “brain drain” – when graduates leave the state after earning their degrees. The truth is, more than 80 percent of you will stay in Wisconsin to live, work and raise a family. You will become our state’s teachers, nursing professionals, pharmacists, elected officials, artists, lawyers, and business leaders. Not matter what path you take, your contributions will be vitally important to Wisconsin’s future.
And these contributions won’t simply be through your career or the taxes you’ll pay. It is your thoughtful contributions to the public good that will truly make a difference. Perhaps you’ll serve on the local school board, or write letters to the editor of your local newspaper to express your opinion on an issue. Maybe you’ll volunteer to build a playground, serve in the armed forces, or run for public office.
No matter how you give back, your contributions to the state and your local communities will be real acts of citizenship; those actions that require us to engage with our fellow citizens in public dialogue, public discussion, and public work. My challenge to you, graduates of the class of 2005, is to take the knowledge, the wisdom, the skills, and the passion you have developed at UW-Manitowoc and use them for the common good.
Take a moment to reflect upon your time here at UW-Manitowoc. Think of the faculty members who touched your lives by engaging you in a topic that truly shook your perspective on the world – even got you out of bed for that early morning class!
Think of the academic staff members who were your advisors and counselors--raising the bar, and helping you figure out the next best step for your future.
Think of your fellow students, with whom you developed strong friendships and, we hope, lifelong bonds.
These are the people who make the UW System one of the greatest institutions of higher education in the nation. All of them have invested time in your development, so please take the time to thank them for being a vital part of your life here at UW-Manitowoc. And while you’re at it, thank your families, too, for all they’ve done to support you and your education. (Before you ask them for money!)
I believe you can also play an important role as an “educated citizen” in sharing the message of the value and importance of a UW education and its effect on your own life. Communicate this to the Manitowoc Herald Times Reporter, to your local legislators, to your families, or even the Governor. Let your voice be heard about the excellence of the University of Wisconsin Colleges and the faculty and staff who have helped make your post-secondary experiences all it could be. As you join the ranks of our alumni, we need you to urge the political powers that be to reinvest in the UW to keep it strong for your successors.
Your time at UW-Manitowoc may be coming to a close, but I encourage you to open yourselves to the continuing pleasure of learning and growing. May the appreciation of teaching, the exhilaration of knowledge, and the thrill of discovery stay with you throughout your adventures as a lifelong learner.
Thank you for being part of the UW-Manitowoc – and the UW System – community. Know that wherever in the world your fate takes you, you will forever remain a part of us, and we of you.
My closing wish for all of you is this: May you have enough happiness to make you sweet, enough trials to make you strong, enough sorrow to keep you human, and enough hope to make you happy.
Now go out there and do well, and do good! Thanks for listening.