University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire


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Commencement Speaker Asks Graduates to Consider
The Challenge to Contribute Wherever They Go

 MAILED:  May 24, 2004

EAU CLAIRE - Graduates attending the afternoon commencement ceremony at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire surely arrived puzzled by the title of the Rev. Donald Wisner's commencement address, "You Can Get to Oulu from Here."

But his message quickly became clear.

The many UW-Eau Claire graduates who have gone on to be successful in "larger, more complex and hipper places like New York and Seattle" have proven that UW-Eau Claire students are well taught and can compete in any arena, Wisner told the 567 graduates from the School of Arts and Sciences and master's degree candidates.

"The recruiting literature that brought you here as a freshman didn't mislead when it promised, 'You can go anywhere from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire,'" Wisner said.

But Wisner, pastor of Eau Claire's University Lutheran Church since 1984, admitted he was more intrigued by the question of how UW-Eau Claire graduates might fare in smaller towns and cities.

"Can you now go from this university and find a continuing challenge for your curiosity, a welcome for your wisdom and a lab for your lifelong learning in one of the small places that might become your adopted home?" Wisner asked.

Wisner began his "Charge to the Class" by telling a story about a chance encounter with a student who looked terribly sad and somehow displaced. He guessed correctly that she was suffering from homesickness, and when he asked where she was from, she eventually replied that she was from "just a little place." She was sure he had never heard of it. But Wisner had not only heard of her hometown of Oulu, he knew one of the student's teachers as well as a few other details about the things that made her hometown special.

"The question that faces many of you who are graduating today is not, 'What am I now going to do?'" said Wisner. "Most of you have a line on grad schools, internships, teaching positions, corporate jobs or volunteer service. This university has prepared you well for a vocation. The more curious question is 'Where are you going to now call home? What for you will be the next best place?'"

Wisner went on to say that he believes there are special challenges for those who choose small places.

"Small places will require you to be conversant with the neighbors you will see everyday," he said. "You will need to listen to learn what they know. But you have already experienced that skill through the faculty in this place who have been conversant with you and invited your insights."

Wisner then enumerated all the ways in which he believes a UW-Eau Claire education has prepared its graduates to be those "special people" who can live in and contribute in special ways to small towns. The university's tradition of collaborative research will help graduates learn about their community's resources, Wisner said, and UW-Eau Claire's size has taught students what it's like to be in a place where "intimacy is possible and your name is known."

"Small places will need and invite you to join folks and become a part of their service to others. … but, you have been well prepared to make those contributions because of the service learning you completed to earn today's degree," Wisner said.

"But this place, this university, cannot teach compassion, hospitality or morality," cautioned Wisner. "We can only practice them. If you are moral, hospitable and compassionate, thank your parents, grandparents and family, for you learned those virtues in their laps, at their feet and sitting at their table."

Wisner concluded his address by reminding graduates that they have now become "a living part of the Wisconsin Idea. … the pioneering notion that every citizen should have the opportunity to experience the benefit of higher education firsthand," and he challenged them to keep the Wisconsin Idea alive by investing in people and all the places they choose to call home.

More than 1,100 students graduated from UW-Eau Claire during two ceremonies today.

During today's morning commencement ceremony, Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle delivered the "Charge to the Class" to graduates in the College of Business and the College of Professional Studies.



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 Judy Berthiaume, Director
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Schofield 201
(715) 836-4741

Updated: May 20, 2004