December commencement is a family tradition

| Judy Berthiaume

You could say that gathering for a pre-holiday celebration in UW-Eau Claire’s Zorn Arena is a December tradition for the Kronholm family.

When she walks across the stage next month, Kelsey Kronholm will become the fourth member of her family to graduate from UW-Eau Claire — all during December commencement ceremonies.

“We figured out that we all had December commencements in common when we were talking last year and thought it was pretty unique,” Kelsey says of her family of Blugolds.

While Kelsey, her brother, dad and mom all ended their college careers with degrees from UW-Eau Claire, each of them began their Blugold journey just a little differently.

Her dad, Herb, was the only one in the family to take a traditional route to earning his Blugold alumnus status, attending UW-Eau Claire right out of high school and earning a mathematics degree in 1975.

Her mom, Jonna, took classes in Marshfield through UW-Eau Claire’s satellite nursing program, earning her bachelor’s degree in nursing in 1982.

Her brother, Erik, attended UW-Eau Claire as a freshman, transferred to Chippewa Valley Technical College, where he earned an associate degree, before returning to UW-Eau Claire to complete his bachelor’s degree in computer science in 2016.

A Wisconsin Rapids native, Kelsey attended a private college in Minnesota as a freshman, but transferred to UW-Eau Claire her sophomore year.

“We all took different academic routes to get here,” Kelsey says. “Each one of us had a different path that brought us to UWEC, but this university offered each of us just what we needed so we all ended here.”

Kelsey’s brother was a student at UW-Eau Claire when Kelsey made the decision to transfer.

She remembers visiting him as Centennial Hall was under construction, and him joking that she could have classes in the new building if she were to transfer.

Little did he know that she soon would make that very decision, Kelsey says.

“I was captivated by the openness and beauty of the campus,” Kelsey says of deciding to transfer to UW-Eau Claire. “My family was thrilled when I decided to make the switch. My dad wanted me to attend UWEC because of the legacy of being a Blugold. He has a lot of pride for the school.”

While gaining a quality education is the greatest benefit of their time as Blugolds, a bonus has been how much closer they have become as a family because of their shared experiences at UW-Eau Claire, Kelsey says.

“We bond over UW-Eau Claire,” Kelsey says of her family. “We talk about where we had classes and where we lived. It also is fun to hear my dad’s stories, like about taking the trays from the cafeteria to slide down the hill in the winter. I have a better understanding of my dad’s past because I understand the settings when he tells a story about his college days. I think the experience of being a Blugold has brought my family closer because we are connected in more ways than just as a family.”

Kelsey says she has especially happy memories of sharing the campus with her brother when both were students.

“I loved when my brother and I went to UWEC at the same time,” Kelsey says. “We were students at the same time for a year and a half. We would have lunch in Davies together and I would stop to say hi to him at the LTS Help Desk where he worked. We even tried to take a class together but our majors did not line up.”

Given all their ties to the campus, it is easy to convince her family to come visit, Kelsey says.

“My dad is a huge UWEC fan,” Kelsey says. “He loves coming back to visit. When my dad was in college, he ran cross-country and track for the Blugolds. He is a proud UWEC cross-country and track fan. I ran the Eau Claire Half Marathon last spring and my parents were there to cheer me on. They cheered for me at the Blugold Mile because they loved the chance to be on campus.”

While Kelsey was certain that UW-Eau Claire was the right school for her, she was less sure about her major.

It did not take her long as a Blugold to figure out her path.

“After the introduction course, I was hooked on psychology,” Kelsey says. “I found the content intriguing and I found a variety of career options associated with the major. After an advising session where I explored career options, I discovered school counseling. I believe the school counseling setting would be a fitting career path for me because of its contributions to a community’s youth.”

She was even more convinced that she chose the right major after meeting her academic adviser, Dr. Mary Beth Leibham, an associate professor psychology.

“I have taken an array of classes with her,” Kelsey says of her favorite professor. “She is one of the most intelligent people I have ever met and conducts her classes in a way that resonates with all of her students. In her lectures, she adds her personal experiences, which conveys the content in relevant ways. I have learned the most and expanded my perspectives from her. She makes me feel cared about and truly wants to help me succeed. I will definitely miss her once I graduate.”

In addition to her psychology major, Kelsey hopes her coaching minor will be yet another way to work with young people.

“I also have a passion for athletics,” Kelsey says. “My background involves high school and collegiate sports. This fall, I had the opportunity to help coach the Eau Claire Memorial High School cross-country team. The experience solidified my idea of becoming a coach in the near future.

“One of the best things about being a Blugold is all of the opportunities offered here. I had the opportunity to work as a resident assistant, find a coaching internship, and take interesting and unique classes. I am thankful for all of the options and opportunities.”

Kelsey’s parents still live in Wisconsin Rapids, where her mom teaches at the technical college and her dad is recently retired. Her brother is a programmer analyst for the Marshfield Clinic in Marshfield.

After she earns her degree, Kelsey plans to attend graduate school to earn her master’s in school counseling.

While she is looking forward to gathering with her friends and family for her graduation in December, commencement will not be her last big day in Eau Claire.

Kelsey is getting married in June — and, not surprisingly, both the ceremony and reception will be in Eau Claire.

“We decided to do this because my fiancé is from Eau Claire but also because Eau Claire means so much to my immediate family,” Kelsey says. “Eau Claire feels like home for all of us.”

Photo caption: The Kronholm family — all proud Blugolds — packed their UWEC flag for their trip to Alaska. Kelsey will graduate in December, making her the last member of her family to graduate from UW-Eau Claire during winter commencement.