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May 25, 2011

UW-Eau Claire COB Graduate Reflects on College Experience at Commencement

James Wagner

May 2011 College of Business graduate James Wagner delivered the student “Reflection” speech at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Commencement held May 21, 2011 at 2 pm in W. L. Zorn Arena. Wagner’s reflection was titled, “Lint in the Carpet”.

Gretchen Hutterli, College of Business assistant dean, interviewed Wagner about his speech, his experience as a UW-Eau Claire business student, and his plans for the future.

Hutterli: Congratulations on graduating magna cum laude, James! For those who don’t know, magna cum laude means that James graduated with a grade point average of at least 3.5. Given James’ GPA, it probably won’t surprise many readers to learn that he also was a member of the university’s Honors Program. I know I speak for all College of Business faculty and staff when I say we are very proud of you.

One of your accomplishments was being selected to give the student “Reflection” speech at commencement. When I read the title of your reflection, I was very intrigued. Tell us how you came up with the title and what your refection was about?

Wagner: My speech was titled, “Lint in the Carpet,” which immediately raised some eyebrows. Lint in the Carpet is a theme that I have carried with me through my academic career ever since my freshmen year of high school. On my first day of school, my English teacher lectured our class about how we were nothing more than lint in the carpet. We had amounted to nothing in our lives. He basically broke our egos down so that he could help build us back up and into successful people. As I progressed through high school, I worked to get myself up and out of the carpet, which I thought I did. Then, when I got to UW-Eau Claire, I realized that I was back to being lint in the carpet. As you pass through each stage in your life, you’re always going to find yourself stuck in the carpet. However, if you work hard, you’ll be able to work your way out.

» View full text of the speech

Hutterli: I really enjoyed your speech, James. And, you are correct, the Class of 2011 may find themselves stuck in the carpet initially, but they have the skills and knowledge they need to work their way out.

Many people would rather sit in the audience than give a speech in front of hundreds of people. Why did you want to give a commencement speech?

Wagner: As my last year progressed, I started to get very anxious about what I was going to do with my future. The closer I got to graduation, the more scared I was of actually being done with college and having to find a place in the “real world.” But at some point I realized that even though we are all facing major life changes and have hundreds of questions to answer, stressing out about the future is not the way to go about things. Everything comes in stride and I’ve recognized that the future is bright for all of us graduates. I figured that there were a lot of other people in the same boat as me and I thought giving a speech might just help ease some nerves.

Hutterli: How did it feel to give your reflection before so many people, including your family, friends and professors?

Wagner: To be honest, I wasn’t too nervous until I actually got on stage and looked out at everyone. That’s when it all hit me. Thankfully, I was told later that my nerves didn’t really show, so at least I was able to feign confidence. I tried not to look at my family too much because I thought they might be tearing up and I didn’t want them to make me emotional. During the speech, I was just focused on getting through it and not really thinking about how it felt. But after I was done, I got a text from a good friend of mine who was sitting with my family that said, “This whole row of people is SUPER proud of you.” That made me feel good to be able to stand in front of my friends and family and make them proud.

Hutterli: That is very cool. Looking back on your experience at UW-Eau Claire, how did the College of Business prepare you for the future?

Wagner: The biggest thing that I will take away from the College of Business is the ability to make decisions. In the business world, there are very rarely right and wrong answers. Rather, there are hundreds of ways to approach a situation and at the end of the day a decision has to be made. The classes I took in the College of Business never told me the right decisions to make. They just simply presented us with different ways to approach any given issue. Often you just have to figure out how to do something that no one has done before. The College of Business has given me the ability to do that and to be able to think for myself.

Hutterli: Now that you’ve graduated, what are your plans for the future?

Wagner: As of right now, I plan on going back home to the Twin Cities to pursue a career in finance. I am really holding out for something that I can see myself doing for several years. I’ve already turned down one job offer because I just don’t want a job; I’m looking for a career. Otherwise, I’m just looking forward to being able to spend time with my family and friends back home and enjoy all the excitement that comes with finding my own path.

Hutterli: Best wishes always to you, James. I look forward to hearing where your path takes you.

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