Grad achieves dual goals of earning diploma, walking to receive it

Jennifer Ulrich, UW-Green Bay graduateFor new UW-Green Bay alumna Jennifer Ulrich, crossing the stage during spring commencement ceremonies was doubly meaningful.

There was the achievement of earning her degree in Psychology, something for which she’d worked long and hard. Then there was the way she physically accepted her diploma, standing — and walking — her way across the Kress Events Center stage.

It was a walk once thought impossible by doctors, family members — even Ulrich herself.  She has spina bifida and cerebral palsy, and has used a wheelchair since childhood. But after some serious goal-setting with roommates — and some even more serious hard work, exercise and physical therapy — Ulrich walked the walk during Saturday’s event.

“About a year ago my roommates and I set a goal — I just wanted to walk, period,” Ulrich said. “(For) commencement, it’s a big thing for someone to walk across the stage — and I thought that’d be the perfect time to walk across the stage.”

And she did, rising to her feet as a packed house at the Kress rose to theirs. Grasping her walker with her assistance dog, Wilson, at her side, Ulrich walked to receive her diploma. Twice she sat down in a wheelchair wheeled behind her — unaided, Ulrich can walk about 38 feet at a time. But, to applause, cheers and shouts of “you can do it!” — Ulrich had.

The walk and the diploma were equally rewarding, Ulrich said, because both took a tremendous amount of work. There were times she was ill and had to miss class, so keeping up could be a challenge. But Ulrich was undeterred, and determined to finish her degree.

Now that she’s achieved two of her major goals, Ulrich is poised to set new ones. Her next steps — after an upcoming surgery — will include either another undergraduate degree or pursuing her master’s. After achieving so much, Ulrich has advice for those who face challenges.

“Go for your goals — no matter how small or big, just go for them,” Ulrich said. “And you can achieve so much if you believe in yourself.”

Click here to learn more about Ulrich and her journey.