Chancellor Ford Address to Winter 2014 Graduating Class

Published: December 15, 2014

Good afternoon graduates, family members, friends and guests. Welcome to the 30th University of Wisconsin-Parkside Winter Commencement -- or, maybe the 31st -- let me explain.
In preparation for today's ceremony, I asked Anna Stadick, head of our Archives and Area Research Center, for a little background information on winter commencement. Here is her response: The first winter ceremony was in January 1971, with additional January ceremonies in 1972 and '73. In 1974, '75, '76, and '77, we had December ceremonies. 

Then, in fall 1978 it was announced that all winter graduates could march in the spring ceremony … but there would be no winter ceremony. Yes -- there was a protest. As a result, a small reception was held for 120 grads in December 1978. Winter Commencements were not held again until December 1992, and have been conducted ever since. 

That means, this is the 30th Winter Commencement -- or the 31st if you count the 1978 reception. 

Our very first commencement ceremony was held in the spring of 1970. George Becker holds the honor of being the first person to cross the stage that day. About 30 graduates were assembled in alphabetical order in the Greenquist Hall concourse and two persons, who would have been ahead of George, were not able to attend. Timing, is everything. 

Because Anna Stadick is amazing, she also reports that Willie Box was the first graduate for a Winter Commencement in January 1971. Since then, in 45 spring ceremonies and 30 -- or 31 -- winter ceremonies, we have awarded more than 22,000 University of Wisconsin-Parkside degrees and the majority of our graduates are the first in the family to earn a college degree.

Today, 54% of you are the first in your family to earn a University degree -- as was I. It is also interesting to me that almost five percent of your class completed the degree requirements in less than four years. Congratulations! 

I can't help but wonder what roles each of you will play in building our vibrant society. Not too long ago, the majority of university graduates with immediate plans to pursue a professional career wanted to join a large company. Today, graduates are thinking smaller. Studies show that a growing number of you want to start your own companies. As a group, you are much more entrepreneurial, and more innovative. 

The late Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple noted: 

Innovation comes from people meeting up in the hallways or calling each other at 10:30 at night with a new idea, or because they realized something that shoots holes in how they've been thinking about a problem. 

I recently read "Innovation You" by University of Michigan Professor Jeff DeGraff. He defines innovation as:

Anything that is enhanced – made better or new. Growth requires that we move out of the known and toward unknowable, experimenting and revising as we go. 

Innovators remind us to not be afraid to change course or move in a different direction, in other words, innovators know how to think. DeGraff said to try this the next time you are stuck or find yourself with others who are too busy reacting, critiquing, explaining and blaming. In order to shift the focus and begin building something new, DeGraff says: 

Assume that you are right, and people around you are crazy. What would a sane person do?

This question shifts your thinking. It stops you from endlessly moving away from something and allows you to move toward something new – that is, you start innovating. Thus, a key first step to innovation is YOU! 

As you move into the next chapters of your lives, society will require you to be innovators and creators. To do that, you must embrace collaboration and you must have the ability to shift your thinking and start moving toward something new. Maybe this didn't strike you during your educational journey here at UW-Parkside, but I am confident that the curriculum and requirements inside and outside of the classroom have prepared you to be successful in these key areas. 

Today, you join thousands of proud and innovative UW-Parkside alumni who are highly engaged citizens and contribute to our communities as doctors, authors, attorneys, elected officials, artists, educators, entrepreneurs, business professionals, engineers, and scientists, just to name a few. 

In a few moments, I will proudly hand you your diploma cover. As you accept the university's recognition of your accomplishment, you are also accepting the responsibility to carry the great legacy of UW-Parkside forward and contribute to the betterment of our society as innovative and engaged citizens. 

From where I stand, I see tremendous potential -- and I'm going to stop for a moment to share this view with you. (Takes photo of graduating class). We're going to post the photo right now on social media so the entire world can see what I see: The next generation of innovators from the University of Wisconsin-Parkside! 

When you leave this building today and pursue graduate school or a professional career, your ability to stay up to date with the latest technology, the latest innovations, the latest way of solving challenges will be the deciding factor in your success. The great entrepreneurs, the great innovators, never stop learning. Likewise, you must continue your education, be open to learning, and embrace an ongoing educational journey. 

Maybe you're thinking: "Gee Chancellor, give us a break, this is supposed to be graduation!" It is -- so I will give you a break. Take time today to reflect on all that you have experienced, the people you have met, the successes you have enjoyed while at UW-Parkside and the opportunities you have embraced. 

Today is about you -- it is about the contributions you have made and will make to the lives of those you hold most dear, and the communities in which you live, work, grow and contribute. Tomorrow -- well that's also about you. What you make of your tomorrow is directly related to the knowledge you seek and the new knowledge you embrace. 

And much like you, what this university makes of tomorrow, is directly related to how the faculty and staff seek and embrace innovation in teaching methods and the way in which information is shared. Here's a question -- I won't call it a quiz or a test, you've passed enough of those -- what do these phrases have in common: 
APP Factory; 
Flex Option; 
The Institute of Professional Educator Development 
Sustainable Management

The answer is: For most of you these phrases were not around when you started your education at UW-Parkside. They are new programs that illustrate innovation on the part of the university. In order for you and future UW-Parkside graduates to be innovative and ready to embrace tomorrow's opportunities, and to be confident that the value of your degree remains relevant and strong, be assured that UW-Parkside will continue to be an innovative leader in higher education. 

As graduates in the 2014 winter commencement ceremony, I know you will enjoy the day. On behalf of the faculty and staff, I thank you for allowing the University of Wisconsin-Parkside to help shape your future!  

Congratulations to the Class of 2014!

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