If practice makes perfect, then the Soldner family should have the best celebration ever when John Paul Soldner graduates from UW-Eau Claire later this month.
After all, John Paul will be the ninth — and last — sibling from the La Crosse family to walk across the Zorn Arena stage to receive a diploma from UW-Eau Claire.
Come Dec. 17, every one of Jay and Nancy Soldner’s nine kids will be Blugold alumni.
Little did the couple know when they brought their oldest daughter, Stephanie, to UW-Eau Claire in 1995 that they'd have a child enrolled at the university continuously for the next 20-plus years.
“I'm the ninth piece of a puzzle, and it's great to be the one who brings it all together,” says John Paul, who will earn a bachelor’s degree in business management. “I’m the final part of the Soldner family legacy here at UWEC. I feel relieved and accomplished knowing that I’m the last one. It's a bittersweet feeling.”
When all nine siblings in one family earn college degrees it's pretty impressive.
When all nine siblings in one family earn their college degrees from the same university it's absolutely incredible.
“Not every family can say that they all attended college, let alone the same school, so I am very blessed and fortunate to have been given the opportunity to be here at UW-Eau Claire,” John Paul says.
There also probably aren’t a lot of people, other than UW-Eau Claire faculty and staff, who can say they’ve gone to nine Blugold commencement ceremonies.
But John Paul is pretty sure that he’s been to every one of his siblings' graduations so his own ceremony will make No. 9.
He was very young when his oldest siblings, Stephanie Gauger and James Soldner, graduated in 1999 and 2002 so he doesn’t remember being on campus for those celebrations.
But he has at least some memories of all the others, he says.
“My earliest memory of the UWEC campus would be visiting my brother, Michael, and sister, Mary Ann, when they went here,” John Paul says of his siblings, who earned their degrees in 2005 and 2006. “I was only 9 or 10 at the time so the actual graduation ceremony itself wasn't that interesting to me, but the reception with the excellent treats is something that I remember.”
Then came graduation ceremonies for the rest of his siblings: Julie Soldner earned her degree in 2007, Joseph Soldner in 2010, Charles Soldner in 2011 and then Anna Soldner in 2014.
“The ones that I remember the most would be the most recent two, Charlie and Anna,” John Paul says. “I was old enough when they were in school here to appreciate the impact of a college degree, and that was definitely a deciding factor in my attending UWEC.”
So what does a large and close-knit family do when the youngest graduates from a university that has been a part of their family for more than two decades?
They all gather on their favorite campus to celebrate John Paul’s accomplishments and their shared alma mater.
“My entire family will be in attendance,” John Paul says of his December commencement. “All nine siblings will be at my graduation, which I think is impressive considering we are located not only all across the U.S. but across the world.”
Their shared Blugold experiences make for lively conversation whenever they get together for holiday or family events, says John Paul, who will move to Chicago after graduation to be a manager trainee for Menards.
“Not all of my siblings have had the chance to visit campus once they’ve graduated so it’s my job to update them on what has changed,” John Paul says.
As the siblings talk about UW-Eau Claire, the new buildings and other physical changes to the campus always come up, John Paul says, adding that they all agree their alma mater is Wisconsin’s most beautiful campus.
“But we also always talk about the things that never change, like some of the professors that we’ve had or many of the campus activities that are still the same,” John Paul says.
John Paul's graduation marks the end of an era for the Soldner family and UW-Eau Claire.
When spring semester classes begin in January, it will be the first time in more than 20 years that a Soldner sibling won't be among the student body.
Given the family’s love of all things Blugold, it shouldn’t be a surprise that while John Paul is the last of his siblings to graduate, there very well could be more Blugolds in the family’s future.
“I have 12 nieces and nephews and the oldest, Max, is currently a sophomore in high school,” John Paul says. “After talking to his mother, Stephanie, I wouldn't be surprised if he carries on the tradition and enrolls at UWEC.”