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Moving forward: Alumni, student speakers provide inspirational send-off for UW-Stout graduates

May 4 commencement messages encourage them to be ‘Stout Proud,’ courageous and resilient leaders


By Jerry Poling, UW Stout


Celebratory smiles lit up the faces of 1,037 graduates as they crossed the stage to receive a higher education degree on May 4 from Wisconsin’s Polytechnic University, UW-Stout.


Along with their diplomas, they departed the three commencement ceremonies at Johnson Fieldhouse with inspirational advice from three alumni speakers, who have become corporate and community leaders, and three of their peers from the Class of 2024.



“Practice the Greek ideal ‘a sound mind and a sound body.’ Practice the highest ethical standards, work hard, continue to learn, play hard. Do this for yourself, for your family, for your community, for the nation and for the world,” said Dallas Pankowski, a 1960 bachelor’s and 1961 master’s graduate who along with his wife, Edye, received honorary doctorate degrees recognizing their highly successful business and a lifelong commitment to learning, living an active lifestyle and philanthropy. “Go out, make it happen and be Stout Proud.”



Shelly Ibach was a student commencement speaker when she graduated in 1981 from UW-Stout. Now CEO of Sleep Number Corp. in Minneapolis since 2012, she advised graduates to be courageous and find their “red thread. A red thread is your defining characteristic, a signature strength that is as unique to you as your fingerprint. It’s an innate gift that guides you in good times and in times of adversity. As you know, it takes perseverance, resilience and courage to navigate all the trials and tribulations and find your path forward.”


In the Graduate Studies ceremony, Emily Berge, a UW-Stout 2002 bachelor’s graduate and 2006 master’s graduate, licensed professional counselor and Eau Claire City Council president, told graduates that each one of them has what it takes to be a leader. She encouraged them to practice self-care and be resilient leaders.



“To be resilient is to engage in activities that make you smile, to surround yourself with people who you can be your true self with, to treat yourself with the same kindness that you give to your best friend, and to protect that time in your day when you feel the most peaceful and happy. Because I promise you that life will turn you upside down at times but resilience will ground you.”


She added that she had to miss her graduate degree commencement in 2006 because she was nine months pregnant. That child, a son, is graduating from high school this spring and plans to attend UW-Stout in the fall.


“You probably already know this, but Stout is a very well-regarded institution. People know that Stout graduates are hard-working, creative thinkers and problem solvers. I am proud that he chose Stout, and I look forward when he can be like you all and be a Stout graduate,” Berge said.



Ceremonies were held at 9:30 a.m. for the College of Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Management; 1:30 p.m. for the College of Arts and Human Sciences; and at 5 p.m. for Graduate Studies.


Student speakers were:


CSTEMM ceremony, Kat Schlauderaff, of Chaska, Minn., digital marketing technology:


“Every single (graduate) in this room had to fight to be here today. The hours, sweat, determination and, for some of us, tears that were poured into our academics should not go unnoticed. For all the memories you have where you thought you wouldn’t make it, you thought you’d fail, or you considered dropping out, you soon will have the memory of moving that tassel and knowing that you persevered. You’ve made it,” Schlauderaff said.


“Embrace the obstacles that lie ahead with the same tenacity and courage that you’ve shown throughout your journey at Stout. Let the memories of your triumphs serve as a reminder of your inner strength and capability. Dare to dream big, pursue all your passions relentlessly, and never underestimate your ability to overcome hardships. Together, let us embark on this new adventure with confidence, resilience and an unwavering belief in our ability to make a difference in the world.”



CAHS ceremony, Genevieve Czaplewski, of Grand Island, Neb., applied social science and a member of the Blue Devil gymnastics team:


“What my diploma says I studied does not even begin to cover all that I learned during my time at Stout. My professors, classmates and teammates were the catalysts to such immense personal growth that I don’t think freshman me would recognize who’s speaking up here,” she said.


Czaplewski learned in a class that the point of Greek myth performances was to get the audience to think about what they want to do in life, what makes them tick and how that will affect the person next to them. Asking herself those questions, she came to new conclusions about her life.


“We are more than our degrees and our jobs. You have the power to inspire yourself and others with what you do. Move forward with the intent of sowing positive change in every facet of your life,” she said.



Graduate Studies ceremony, Sarah Jasa, of St. Paul, marriage and family therapy:


“As you stand on the precipice of the future, ready to commence in different directions and new journeys, I want to take an opportunity to remind you of the values of UW-Stout that have helped shape and guide you throughout your time here. Honor, industry, skill and learning. It is no small feat to pursue a master's or doctoral degree; it takes a true love of learning and commitment to bettering your fields with the skills and knowledge you obtain. You all have demonstrated wholly this powerful passion and commitment to a lifetime of learning,” Jasa said.


“I encourage you to remember the challenges you’ve faced and the obstacles you overcame, the countless hours you’ve poured into this degree and the many sacrifices you’ve made to make it here today. Each trial and hardship serves as a testament to your determination and resilience; you have proven yourselves capable of demonstrating the values of UW-Stout.



“The path to progress and success is rarely linear, it surely wasn’t for me. There will be moments of doubt, setbacks, and even failure. However, my dear friend and cohort member Susie recently reminded me that life is not defined by our greatest successes and happiness, but the failures, setbacks and tragedies. It is the joys and small victories we hang on the posts of those defining moments. It is during these times that your true character will radiate brightest and allow you to fully embrace adversity as a catalyst for change and growth,” she said.


Chancellor Katherine Frank congratulated graduates on their achievement and a job well done, while providing examples of 12 inspiring graduates across the three ceremonies. “This is a world that needs you more than ever; it needs your knowledge, your talent and your vision,” she said.


Provost Glendalí Rodríguez presided over the ceremonies, which included music by the UW-Stout Symphonic Band and the Jazz Orchestra, directed by Aaron Durst; and the Chamber Choir, Symphonic Singers and Devil Tones Acapella, directed by Jerry Hui.


UW-Stout is Wisconsin’s Polytechnic University, with a focus on applied learning, collaboration with business and industry, and career outcomes. Learn more via the FOCUS2030 strategic plan.

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