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UW-Eau Claire alumnus challenges new graduates to find a career that makes them 'come alive' every day

| Judy Berthiaume

Photo caption: During his “Charge to the Class,” Dr. Woubeshet Ayenew, a 1992 graduate and respected Minneapolis cardiologist, challenged UW-Eau Claire’s newest graduates to find a career that “ignites your core and brings you alive.” During two ceremonies on Dec. 18, 737 students received their diplomas. (Photo by Shane Opatz)

University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire students who graduated Dec. 18 will take with them “one of the best well-rounded educations,” an education that “goes beyond the curriculum to also include community spirit, unquenchable curiosity and the critical tools to make the world your canvas,” Dr. Woubeshet Ayenew, a 1992 graduate and respected Minneapolis cardiologist, said during his “Charge to the Class.”

It’s daunting, Ayenew told the graduates, to offer advice to them because they are finishing college during an ongoing pandemic that continues to create chaos and uncertainty in the world.

“How can I possibly impart wisdom on hard work and perseverance to graduates who ploughed through coursework after coursework during the worst pandemic of our times? Far be it for me to advise you to be flexible and resourceful when you have mastered versatility with the rapidly changing logistics of your life now for nearly two years,” said Ayenew, who earned his bachelor’s degree in biochemistry/molecular biology.

So, as the Blugolds leave campus with the “confidence of your strong foundation, resilience, agility and resourcefulness,” Ayenew said his hope is that they “arrive at a successful career that will make you come alive every day and reward you with meaning to match your hard work.”

When you come alive, Ayenew said, “work becomes your sandbox where you are a change agent for your community. When you come alive, you become impervious to work restructuring, downsizing, burnout, salary pressures and wrangling for promotions. These become pedestrian when you have come alive and march with purpose. Once you come alive, I will dare say that even a pandemic will not wear you down. More challenges simply become more opportunities to learn and climb higher.”

He told graduates to “seek a career that ignites your core, brings you alive, rewards you beyond monetary gains, beyond ranks, and makes you the bright light for your family, friends and your community.”

Ayenew spoke Saturday at both the morning and afternoon commencement ceremonies, where 737 students received their diplomas. The December graduates included 687 students earning their bachelor’s degrees and 50 students earning their master’s degrees.

On Saturday, Ayenew, was awarded the university’s Lifetime Achievement Award, an honor recognizing his work as a cardiologist and his contributions to the Twin Cities and communities around the world.

A native of Ethiopia, Ayenew came to UW-Eau Claire as an international student. Saying he has “very fond memories” of days on campus, he told the new graduates that the support he received from faculty, staff and students helped him be successful on campus, giving him the foundation necessary for future success.

Calling Phillips Hall his “second home,” Ayenew said he went to medical school and realized he’d “already finished my first year of medical school education right in that building.” The undergraduate research opportunities he found as a Blugold, which he said “are unique and second to none,” is what “gave me the confidence, competitiveness and know-how to secure a much-coveted research experience in medical school.”

Now a staff cardiologist who serves as the director of the Cardiovascular Clinic and Outreach Services at Hennepin Healthcare in Minneapolis, Ayenew is a respected leader in the cardiology field whose name regularly appears on lists of Minnesota’s top doctors. He serves on the boards of the American Heart Association Twin Cities and Open Hearts Big Dreams.

Ayenew has focused his work primarily on advocating for underserved communities locally and internationally. He is a co-founder and the first board chair for the East African Health Board, takes regular medical mission trips to Ethiopia and has facilitated international volunteering to underserved public hospitals. He also works tirelessly to increase the number of minority physicians.

As a cardiologist, Ayenew said he’s heard stories from hundreds of patients who had an unexpected interruption of their lives by a sudden heart condition.

“An overarching theme of my patients’ stories was that they all were very good at preparing to live their lives, but they had run out of time to actually live their lives,” Ayenew said. “I never heard any patient lament not getting the next promotion at work or failing to negotiate a year-end bonus. Many wished they had more time to spend with their family or friends. Hundreds regretted waiting too long before they started to give to their community — be it time or money, be it at the local school or an international mission.”

Keeping his patients’ stories in mind, Ayenew reminded the graduates that “you lift others as you climb and there is no better day than today to start giving.”

“Graduates, I charge you to pursue giving to others in ways that match your values, and to do it on your first day of work,” Ayenew said. “I charge you to seek a career that provides you with a profound meaning and makes you come alive every day. I charge you to come alive with your recognition that it is never too early to lend a hand and to share, to be an available friend and to be an engaged family member. I charge you to commit not to win alone, but to lift others with you as you climb and to grow together. I charge you to be good at living life and not to get bogged down with preparing to live your life.”