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‘When we walk this stage, our family graduates with us’

First-generation American, Bao Nhia Xiong, to honor her Hmong heritage and family during UW-Green Bay commencement, Saturday, May 12, 2018

Green Bay, Wis. – When Bao Nhia Xiong accepts her diploma on Saturday, her family is graduating, too.

“(My family), they are the backbone to my story,” says Xiong. “I didn’t grow up with money, I grew up with love. While I was here achieving my goals, my brothers set aside theirs. While I was here living in a comfortable apartment my family was struggling to pay rent on a small duplex that housed a secret number of 12. So, there will never be enough thank-yous and words to express my gratitude to my family. Because as a first-generation college student many of us sitting here know that when we walk this stage today we are not the only one graduating; when we walk the stage today our family too graduates with us.”

Xiong represents the best of a UW-Green Bay education and is the featured Student Commencement Speaker at the Spring 2018 Commencement Ceremony at the Kress Events Center at UW-Green Bay, Saturday, May 12, beginning at 11:30. She was chosen to speak on behalf of her graduating class by a committee of UW-Green Bay faculty and staff and was nominated and selected from all graduating seniors eligible to receive diplomas. Xiong will deliver a portion of her remarks in her native Hmong, so that her mother in the audience, a Hmong refugee, will be able to share this special moment with her daughter.

Xiong is the third oldest of 10 children of Hmong immigrant parents who came to the U.S. as refugees more than 20 years ago. She is the first in her family to graduate with a university degree. Although the Hmong culture values docility and obedience in women, Xiong has become an outspoken advocate for higher education for first-generation college students — increasingly important as the University’s student population evolves to reflect that of Northeast Wisconsin and the world at large. Xiong has worked closely with faculty to create awareness about diversity and inclusion and worked with other students to help them be successful at UW-Green Bay, including as a jump start program mentor where she helped students of color find their place and their voices. She also helped students get involved in campus organizations to help them create awareness of campus issues as well as to learn how to stand up to make change when change is needed.

One of her nominators, Mai J. Lo Lee, Diversity Director, Multi-Ethnic Affairs, says of Xiong: “She continues to amaze me with her passion for being and bringing forth the change she would like to see in others through her genuine nature. It is this kind of character element embodied within Bao Nhia that will challenge the norms and push for change, giving a voice to those who are otherwise ignored or forgotten.”

The class of 2018 has other stories of persistence and accomplishment:

1st Generation. 2 Majors. 4 Years. $0 Debt.
First generation college student Stephany Gardea ‘18 has done what many observers say is impossible these days: She is graduating with a double major (Business Administration and Spanish & Latin American Studies). In four years. With a GPA over 3.25 and a semester of studying abroad under her belt. Her college debt: $0. At a time when many continue to question the value exchange between the cost of college and the degree and experience earned, Gardea’s story has lessons for others contemplating if college is the right path.

Full Steam Ahead for Fulbright Winner
History/Humanities double major Amber Foster was awarded a prestigious Fulbright grant to work as a teaching assistant in Austria for the next academic year. Foster, from Big Bend, Wis., will be teaching English at two schools, The Bundeshandelsakademie und Bundeshandelsschule BHAK BHAS Feldbach (a business school) and The Bundes-Oberstufenrealgymnasium BORG Feldbach (a secondary school with a general curriculum revolving around art, music, natural science, and computer sciences). Part of the global community of Fulbright programs, the Fulbright Scholarship Program, is a teaching assistantship program that places U.S. university graduates in Austrian secondary schools.

Hired Well Before Graduation
Trevor Olsen, Accounting, is just one of many UW-Green Bay students hired before graduation — well before graduation — evidence of local employer efforts to reach earlier into the pipeline to find and hire the talent they need.  Olsen, a Gresham, Wis. native, was hired by international food company Schreiber Foods as a financial analyst already in October of 2017, where he is working part-time until graduation. Olsen credits the small town feel of UW-Green Bay, one-on-one time with faculty due to small class sizes and the reputation of the Cofrin School of Business for his college success, where he learned of the amazing internship opportunity with Schreiber that has now led to his first full-time job.

Student Entrepreneur Hires Herself Before Graduation
Student entrepreneur and Kewaunee County resident Hannah Hastings has made the most of her college experience — she has started her own accounting firm, Hastings Accounting Professionals, Inc., (payroll, taxes, bookkeeping, help with opening/starting a business) for small businesses in the Green Bay area. She also has a patent-pending business idea “Pet’s Best Friend,” a pet temperature monitor which is in the prototype development stage.

Student and ESL Teacher Living the American Dream
Lili Calewarts is living the “American Dream.” As a young girl — a first-generation American — growing up in a tight Polish community in Chicago, Calewarts hadn’t been exposed to English until her first day of kindergarten at age 5. Fast-forward 20 years and she has both completed her degree requirements for her ESL Certification and has earned UW-Green Bay’s Master’s Degree in Applied Leadership for Teaching and Learning. The language challenge experienced by her family is what drove her passion to become an English language learning teacher in the De Pere school district, working with ELL students facing similar challenges.

“My entire life I watched my parents work harder than ever by learning English, working day and night, so that I, a first-generation American, could have every possibility at my finger tips… I believe education is a vital part of every person’s success.”

Prof. Jeffery Entwistle to Address Graduates
Jefferey Entwistle, an award-winning professor (Theatre and Dance) at UW-Green Bay, is the Spring 2018 Commencement Speaker. Entwistle has spent more than half of his career at UW-Green Bay, teaching thousands of students about theatre production and scenic design. Entwistle and his students have been recognized nationally and internationally, including by the Kennedy Center’s American College Theatre Festival. Under his tutelage, UW-Green Bay Theatre and Dance students have secured professional roles with the Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Goodman Theatre, Lookingglass Theatre, 5th Avenue Playhouse, Guthrie Theatre, on Broadway and more. His charge for new graduates: “Inspire Us.”

About the Graduating Class of 2018
This year’s graduating class includes 935 UW-Green Bay students who have applied to graduate at the end of the spring 2018 semester or summer 2018 short-term.

  • 841 (90%) are attaining a bachelor’s degree; 83 (9%) are graduating with a master’s degree credential and 11 (1%) are receiving associate’s degrees.
  • 36% are honors graduates who attained Cum Laude, Magna Cum Laude, or Summa Cum Laude distinctions.
  • Approximately 70% of the graduates are women.
  • 89% of the graduates are categorized as Wisconsin residents.
  • 201 (24%) of those receiving a UW-Green Bay bachelor’s degree transferred to UW-Green Bay from Northeast Wisconsin Technical College.
  • There are 65 Green Bay Area Public High School graduates amongst those walking in the UW-Green Bay graduation ceremony, including 37 students who attended Preble, 16 who came from Southwest and 12 who graduated from West.
  • The most popular majors are Business Administration (142), Integrative Leadership Studies (79) and Nursing (74).

About the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay
The University of Wisconsin-Green Bay is a comprehensive public institution offering undergraduate, graduate and doctoral programs to 7,158 students. The University transforms lives and communities through exceptional and award-winning teaching and research, innovative learning opportunities and a problem-solving approach to education. For more information, visit www.uwgb.edu.

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