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Welcome to the rest of your life. Enjoy it!

| Gretchen Hutterli

Natalie Hegna, a December 2017 graduate from Lakeville, MN, delivered the student "Reflection" speech to business, and education and human science graduates at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Commencement on December 19. She completed a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in accounting and a minor in creative writing.

In her reflection, "The Real World", Hegna disputes the idea that the "real world" is something students experience only after they graduate from college. She cites very real experiences that many college students can relate to -- a broken heart, the loss of a loved one, and late nights studying for a "scary" exam. Graduates, according to Hegna, are "entering the the working world where blank pages lay scattered about, begging to be written on." During their time at UW-Eau Claire, they have gained more than the skills and knowledge they needed for their careers. They have also learned important life skills, such as "what it means to be a better friend, a better student, and an overall better human being". She concludes her speech by welcoming graduates, not to the working world, but to the rest of their lives.

Gretchen Hutterli, assistant dean in the College of Business, interviewed Hegna about her speech, her experience as a UW-Eau Claire student, and her future plans. 

Meet Natalie Hegna

GH: The theme of your reflection is the real world . . . that many people often think about college a brief “time out” from life. But you didn’t see it that way. Was that always the case for you or did your perception of college change over time? 

NH: I think that I have always seen college as being a part of the real world. My college experience was a time of not only growing up, but learning how to be an effective adult. I think that most people don’t give college students the credit that they deserve for deciding to take on a higher education to advance their futures’. Most pay for a place to live and basic necessities all while paying an arm and a leg for tuition and work as a full-time student with a part-time job on the side. It’s a constant juggling act and I have always felt that college is not a place that shelters you, but gives you a good wake up call to what it means to be successful as an adult.

GH: One line that really stood out for me was your comment that “College is where I learned to be stronger than I ever thought possible.” How did college make you stronger? 

NH: College is always a time of a lot of change in one’s life and college was definitely the place where I learned to be the stronger both independently and emotionally. My first couple years at college were difficult because not only was I juggling homework and exams, but also depression, anxiety, roommate problems, and a lack of friends. I know I’m not the only one that felt that way, but it took a lot to overcome these hurdles and truly find my place. I was surprised by this sudden strength I had because as the years went on, I found myself becoming more outgoing and confident. I would have never imagined myself giving the commencement speech at my graduation when I first started at UW-Eau Claire because I nearly fainted at the fact that I had to take a speech class my freshman year.

GH: You have an interesting major-minor combination -- accounting with a minor in creative writing? You've also had an amazing career as a programmer/director with TV 10? Tell us more about these choices.

NH: These choices have made me the person I am today because I never gave up on the dreams that I had as a child. Growing up, math was the subject that I loved the most and I always knew that I wanted to work in the business world as my father does. But I also fell in love with reading, thanks to my mother, and fell in love with writing stories. I knew that one day that I wanted to be a writer, but I also didn’t want to give up my dream of working in the business world. So, I decided that I would do both. My father always told me that I had to ability to work “both sides of my brain”. Meaning that I could be creative as I wanted, but switch to numbers and calculations in the blink of an eye.

The magic behind television had always been a fascination of mine. When I was younger, my sister and I would get out little digital recorder and make full news broadcasts for fun. At BOB (the Blugold Organizations Bash) where students are introduced to the multitude of clubs on campus, TV10 stuck out to me and I joined in September of 2013. TV10 is where I learned how to use broadcast equipment, lead people, teach people, and be my goofy self. The people there were some of the best that I have ever met. TV10 was not just a club to me, it was my home at UW-Eau Claire. We were not just an organization, but a family who supported one another. I don’t think I would have ever gotten through college without them. After 4 ½ years of TV10, I am sad to say goodbye, but I will never forget the way it changed my life forever.

GH: You said in your speech that UW-Eau Claire gives graduates more than just the knowledge they need to succeed in the working world . . . that it taught them what it means to be "a better friend, a better student, and an overall better human being." How has your time here made you a better person?

NH: I think that learning to be a better human being is a life skill and college is definitely a time where I learned to be one. College is a place where you are introduced to tons of different people with different backgrounds all facing different struggles. It gives you the sensitivity and the knowledge that not all people are the same and that people sometimes just need a non-judgmental ear that will listen to what they have to say. College is where we are encouraged to learn about not just what is written in the textbooks, but about other people and experiences and gathering them up to later apply them to their future lives. I think that UW-Eau Claire has done a wonderful job of not only teaching us how to do well in our careers, but also how to be an active learner that takes in what the world teaches us on a daily basis.

GH: Another part of your speech that I personally really loved was when you said that graduates "are not entering the real world but the working world where blank pages lay scattered about, begging to be written on." What will be written on your "blank pages"?

NH: The only plan that I have set in stone for the future is that I will be working as an Issue Validation Analyst at U.S. Bank in downtown Minneapolis. I will also be living in St. Paul and learning to be the best budgeter an accountant can be. But I hope in the future to be an author with several published books. It’s not my ultimate goal to be the next best-selling author, but rather to create stories that everybody can enjoy, learn from, and relate to. If my novels change just one person’s life for the better, that would be enough for me.

GH: Natalie, thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. Best of luck on your new job and on the novel that is "begging to be written".

"The Real World"
By Natalie Hegna, December 2017 BBA graduate

"Throughout my time here at UW Eau Claire, I can’t tell you the number of times that someone has told me that college is nothing like the real world. It usually goes along the lines of, “wait until you’re an adult in the real world”. And my usual response to that is, “then where have I been living this whole time?” Narnia? Is Hogwarts right around the corner? Because I have a bone to pick with them about not getting my acceptance letter.

I never understood why some people call life after college “the real world”. It’s treated like some sort of secret society where you’re finally told all the secrets of the universe. Like how to slam a revolving door or what words really rhyme with orange. It’s like I’m going to get my degree and inside it’ll say, “you’re living in the matrix, you have two choices…” and so on. But in all seriousness, these past few years at college have felt very real to me.

The sting of the icy breeze against your face when crossing the bridge in sub-zero temperatures felt pretty real. That time you fell in love only to learn that your heart seems to make an audible sound when it shatters. That was real.  The time you thought you couldn’t possibly go on living, but that Eels song got stuck in your head and you repeated the lyric, “you may not need this world, but this world needs you here.”. That’s as real as it gets. So why do people think that college is this magical place where you’re sheltered from the worst that life has to offer.

When I was studying abroad in Ireland, my great-grandfather passed away. I couldn’t afford to go home and see my family or say goodbye for the last time. I cried alone in my bedroom for a whole day because I missed him, and my family was 3,648 miles across the globe. So, a kiss from my mom and a bear hug from my dad was out of the question. I grew stronger with every hot tear that ran down my face and I find it insulting that someone would have the nerve to say I don’t know what the real world is like because college is where I learned to be stronger than I ever thought possible. To me, I think “real life” is the true fantasy here. It’s the false identity given to the experience we have after college. But, as far as I can tell, we’ve been living in the real world this whole time.

With every long night studying in the library until the creepy music played over the loudspeakers to signal closing, with every cup of coffee that was needed to stay awake but way out of your budget, with every scary exam, and never-ending group project we have persevered in our education as we have with life. We are not entering the “real world” but the working world where blank pages lay scattered about, begging to be written on. UW-Eau Claire has given us the tools to succeed in the working world. And not only that, but this university has taught us what it means to be a better friend, a better student, and an overall better human being because that’s what #adulting should really mean. So how about instead of saying “welcome to the real world” we say, “welcome to the rest of your life”.  Enjoy it."