UW-Green Bay student speaker Alex Zakutney brings high energy and encourages grads to ‘get out of your comfort zone’

Alexandra Zakutney speaks at Fall 2022 Commencement

Fall 2022 Student Commencement speaker Alexandra Zakutney (Human Biology) encouraged her fellow grads to “keep growing, keep learning and get out of your comfort zone,” at the 106th UW-Green Bay Commencement ceremonies on Saturday, December 17. She shared her love of the university, personal challenges and her unique journey as an athlete from Canada.

Read Alex’s full commencement address below.

Thank you so much Chancellor Alexander for introducing me and inviting me to this gathering.  Thank you to the graduates, parents, professors, and staff who have all come here today to celebrate this huge accomplishment. My name is Alexandra Zakutney, and I am truly honored and humbled to be the student speaker for the fall and winter 2022 commencement ceremony. I would like to start off by congratulating all graduates today. After many years of hard work, countless hours of studying and several late nights, and for some of us all-nighters, I am proud to say that we have finally made it.

To begin this speech, I wanted to tell you guys a little bit about myself. Asides from being a student, I am also a member of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay women’s volleyball team. To add on to that, I’m also Canadian.

Which kind of dabbles into a lot of different categories. I was introduced to this beautiful university in 2018 when I was recruited to play volleyball at Green Bay. I remember coming on a visit to see the University for the first time. Right from that point, I realized how friendly the professors, students, staff were. I saw how beautiful the campus was, especially in the fall when the leaves were changing colors and last but not least, I marveled at how there were an endless number of turkeys walking around the streets at all times. “Welcome to Green Bay!”  There are even times when you need to stop your car to let the turkeys walk by. I also hadn’t clued in that Wisconsinites love cheese, and fun fact… I hate it.  Sorry!

All in all, despite the turkeys and the cheese, I came to realize that Green Bay was the place for me. However, even after I explain this to my peers and friends, my most asked question is still “why did you come to Green Bay from so far away”. And the truth to that, is sometimes you need to take the step that scares you in life. It relates to this quote I love by Amy Poehler that states “Great people do things before they are ready”. At the time, when my 18 your old self was traveling from a different country, I wasn’t ready. Honestly, I was nowhere near ready. In fact I was terrified.  But taking that step in my life really changed who I am today. It allowed me an opportunity to explore the fear of unknown and realize that every step you take it life has a meaning and it has a purpose. The road might not be clear right now as we are finishing one chapter and moving onto the next. This where life gets scary and feels so extremely real. But trust me when I tell you, that everything will work out in the end, if you fight for what you believe in and if you keep doing things out of your comfort zone. It is so important for us as graduates to keep growing and to keep being learners. Being forever curious.  I challenge every one of us in this room today, graduates, family members, professors and staff to choose to be a learner every day. It will give you the best gift you could ever ask for.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you need to move to Canada or any other country to grow, but what I am saying is that ….do things that challenge you, in order to grow into the most beautiful version of yourself. Don’t stay comfortable, but rather learn to embrace the uncomfortable.

Taking new steps always brings new challenges and opportunities…. And for me I have had my share.. Green Bay was a big step for me as I mentioned. Being from Canada, I also spoke French and have only ever studied in French. Therefore, coming to an institution that taught in English was uncomfortable for me. On the first day of class my freshman year, I brought along a French-English dictionary in case I didn’t know some of the words in English. Slowly as I familiarized myself with the new environment, I grew to love it. I stepped out of my comfort zone, and it all worked out for the better. A new school and friends meant a new adjustment socially for my peers and Team with my hearing aids that I wear… which naturally proved to be a non-issue.

End of freshman year I actually tore my ACL, MCL, lateral and medial meniscus. I am assuming here that many of you might be big fans of sports because of the Phoenix and Packers (Go pack go). Therefore, we all might be familiar with this language I was using. But I suffered a terrible injury that took me out of volleyball for a year, and that year sucked. I had to learn to develop a new routine in the gym, while completing my human biology degree, while going through covid. It wasn’t fun. But although I would have never wished for that injury it has truly changed my mental toughness for the game I loved since I was a little girl.

I know I mentioned briefly but Covid!!! Covid happened which also made this experience feel like it flew by. I mean think about it, all those coffee shop dates, those late-night breakfast at the Inion, the endless studying in the library, the cracking up in the dorms with your friends was all put on pause when the pandemic hit, but hey, we came out of it and we’re doing better.

We have all learned to love Green Bay. I am grateful for the amazing professors we have at this campus that taught and inspired us, but also were available to us as friends, and mentors. To all the professors, on the behalf of the graduates, we thank you. Parents, families, and friends, we thank you for all your hard work in raising us, helping shape us into what we wanted to do with our life and for all your sacrifice. We love you and are forever in awe for all that you have done. Finally, to my fellow graduates and friends, thank you for the endless memories we have created together.

This university has brought me some of my best friends. There have been a lot of smiles, laughs, but also tears (especially during finals) but I wouldn’t change any of it for the world or else wouldn’t be here, 4 and a half years later reading this speech in front of our graduating class. So please, if you took one thing from this speech, keep growing, keep learning, and continuously try to get out of your comfort zone. Life is incredibly short, so let’s make the most of it while we can.  I will leave you with this question… when was the last time you did something for the first time?

Thank you for allowing me to speak today. This has been the best four years of my life, and I am forever thankful to be a Phoenix. Thank you.

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