‘Like a family to me': Sights, sounds of UW-Green Bay spring commencement

More than 650 new UW-Green Bay alumni crossed the commencement stage at the Kress Events Center May 18, part of a record class of undergraduate degree candidates who were eligible to participate.

More than 930 UW-Green Bay students qualified to take part in the ceremony, meaning they had registered to graduate at the end of spring semester 2013 or intend to complete their degree requirements this summer. A record 892 candidates were completing undergraduate degrees, including international student Zona Fang. Her family came all the way from China for the big day.

“I’m feeling very excited,” Fang, a Secondary Mathematics Education major, said prior to the ceremony. “I have all my family and my friends travel from all over the world, I would say, just to come and cheer for me today. It’s a wonderful feeling.”

For graduating Design Arts major Ryan Stewart, commencement day brought mixed emotions.

“I’m really excited, but I’m also sad at the same time,” Stewart said. “This place has been wonderful for me. I literally changed as a person here, and I feel like I matured a lot here. So it’s sad to see this place go.”

Graduating senior Jennifer Ulrich, Psychology, achieved two major goals simultaneously on commencement day. She earned her diploma, and she walked across the commencement stage to receive it — despite spina bifida, cerebral palsy and doubts that she’d ever be able to walk unaided. The packed house at the Kress Center rose to its feet as Ulrich rose to hers, completing the walk she’d so long anticipated (watch video).

“This is like a family to me,” she said of the University community. “I adore everyone here, and I’m going to miss it very much. I love UWGB.”

Ulrich was among many grads who had fond words for the people of UW-Green Bay during the commencement day festivities. Senior Psychology major Emily Vogels praised the connections she’d made during her time at the University.

“They’re just a wonderful group of people here,” Vogels said. “It’s really a community — it doesn’t just feel like you’re another face in the crowd. You get so much more out of your learning experience when you get involved, in the classroom and outside of it.”

Echoing that sentiment was Theatre major Derek James Knabenbauer, a May graduate who acted in numerous productions during his time at UW-Green Bay. Knabenbauer credits that experience, along with the excellence of his academic education, with preparing him for his next step — beginning his professional acting career.

“The people — I mean the relationships, certainly,” Knabenbauer said, referring to what he’ll miss about UW-Green Bay. “Especially in the Theatre department — it’s such a close-knit group of people that all have to work together so frequently. That’s what I’m going to miss the most.”

Many graduates reflected on personal growth that occurred during their time at UW-Green Bay — and how quickly that time had gone.

“I think I matured a lot, and found this place to be a home,” Stewart said. “And it was just awesome.”

Added Fang: “I’m proud to be a Phoenix! Yay!”