MAILED: Aug. 3, 2001
EAU CLAIRE — Be
different and make a difference, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire supporter
Jan Ver Hagen told candidates for bachelor’s and master’s degrees during
Saturday’s summer commencement exercises at UW-Eau Claire.
“You have earned degrees from one of
this country’s finest institutions of higher learning, and you have a great
future in front of you. This is your opportunity to differentiate yourself and
make a difference in this world,” Ver Hagen said.
A vice president at Emerson Electric
in St. Louis, Mo., Ver Hagen attended UW-Eau Claire for two years before
completing his mechanical engineering degree at UW-Madison. He and his wife,
Kathryn Fults Ver Hagen, a 1960 elementary education graduate of UW-Eau Claire,
recently contributed more than $1 million of stock to the UW-Eau Claire
Foundation Inc., which ultimately will fund an endowed chair in education. The
Ver Hagen’s were honored with UW-Eau Claire’s first Lifetime Excellence
Award at today’s (Saturday, Aug. 4) commencement exercises.
In his “Charge to the Class,” Ver
Hagen told students that their education at UW-Eau Claire will serve as an
excellent steppingstone as they begin their careers, but, he warned, the
competition for the best jobs is fierce.
“Because of global competition,
successful businesses are lean and intend to stay that way. When they hire, they
look for the best and take their time to find those who have proven they can and
will perform,” Ver Hagen said. “It is up to you to pay the price to set
yourself apart … to be different and go the extra mile.”
The business world is constantly
changing, Ver Hagen said, encouraging graduates to continue learning and
updating their skills even after leaving UW-Eau Claire.
“Step outside your box. Learn all
you can about the other disciplines in your work situation,” he said, adding
that at his company each person is expected to understand the company’s vision
and strategies and be an integral part of marketing as well as manufacturing.
Ver Hagen continued by telling
graduates they also can differentiate themselves by embracing change and taking
“Change is difficult and risky,”
he said. “Many of your peers will let opportunities pass them by simply
because they are afraid of change. But in Neil Simon’s words, ‘If no one
took risks, Michelangelo would have painted the Sistine Chapel floor.’”
Of course, being different should
extend beyond work, Ver Hagen said.
important to keep your career expectations and efforts to succeed in balance
with your personal life,” he said. “It’s a tough balancing act, but it
will make a difference in the lives of the people who matter most — your
Ver Hagen also urged graduates to lend
a helping hand, share their gifts and talents, and get involved to make the
world a better place.
“Few have the opportunity to make
sweeping societal improvements, but each of us has the chance to make some
portion of our community a better place,” he said.
“Our predecessors gave us much from
which we have benefited. We need to make our contributions to afford
opportunities for future generations. Putting something back into society is one
of the most rewarding things you can do, whether it be in direct philanthropy or
personal involvement in support of your church, a charity or other community
need,” Ver Hagen said.
Finally, Ver Hagen concluded by
reminding students that because they live in the greatest country in the world
and because of their liberal arts education at UW-Eau Claire, they will have
opportunities in life to make a lasting impact.
“As our future leaders, accept these
opportunities and challenges. Be able to say, I was there, I was involved, and I
made a difference.”
UW-Eau Claire’s fall semester
classes will resume Sept. 4.
Janice B. Wisner
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Updated: Aug. 3, 2001