Regent Cris Peterson shares her own ‘Rise from the Ashes’ story with 2021 UW-Green Bay graduates
UW-Green Bay Commencement Greeting by Regent Cris Peterson, December 18, 2021
Good morning, everyone. I bring greetings to all of you from the University of Wisconsin System Administration. I’m a Regent. I serve on the Board of Regents. There are 18 of us. We help govern the University. It’s a huge responsibility and a gigantic honor that humbles me. I learn something new at every meeting and during every encounter with my colleagues. Surrounded by professors, administrators, attorneys, successful business people and legendary leaders like interim system president, Tommy Thompson, I often feel overwhelmed by my good fortune to know so many incredible people.
I’m old and have a lot of experience so I can do this regent job…which truly is an exercise in putting forth the Wisconsin Idea to every corner of the state and helping us all thrive. The board of regents’ mission is to guide and lift up all our institutions. So I’m here today to lift you up!
I think that each one of you who has survived and succeeded in the past two years of Covid chaos is a star. I don’t know how you did it. It’s amazing. It’s inspiring. It’s heroic.
You may fear that the past two years of disorder will continue indefinitely. I don’t think it will.
I headed to college in 1969. I’m actually a high school dropout who tested into the University of Minnesota at the age of 16. I can’t believe my parents let me do that, but they did. It was the year after Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis followed by riots in 100 American cities. A couple months later, Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in LA. The Vietnam War ramped up with the Tet Offensive. Violent riots during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago were televised live and the whole thing was jaw-dropping. Look it up on YouTube. At the end of my freshman year at Minnesota, the National Guard fired into a group of unarmed war protesters at Kent State in Ohio and killed five students and wounded dozens. Student protests on almost every campus nationwide resulted in a moratorium at Minnesota. I never did take my Anthropology 101 final.
It felt like every university in the country was rioting. It was disturbing and depressing, and I thought this was how life was going to be from now on. But things changed. Weeks, months, years passed. I see some of you rolling your eyes thinking geez, that was 50 years ago. That was a lifetime ago…before my parents were even born. But today, many draw a parallel between that time and the past two years.
Here at UW Green Bay, you have a mascot that every institution in the country should have…the Phoenix. A mythical bird that rises from the ashes and is a symbol of renewal and rebirth. This is my first visit to your campus so I looked on your website and saw the Phoenix and the tagline “Green Means Go.” It’s perfect. It works for your campus. It could work for the country.
I have a “rising from the ashes” story of my own. My family and I have a dairy farm about 5 hours west of here. In 2017, our 120-year-old barn, which served as our milking center, caught fire and burned to the ground in less than an hour. Our cows were spared, but because they needed to be milked 3 times a day, farmers, friends and complete strangers from all over northern Wisconsin helped haul all 850 of them to other farms where they stayed until we could rebuild. They did this in less than 5 hours.
By the end of 2018, we had a new state-of-the-art robotic milking facility that allows our cows to milk themselves. Without the fire, without the mess and the heartbreak, we could never have dragged our old farm into the 21st century.
Opportunities often come from disasters, conflict, disease, disappointments and heartbreak. Rise from the setbacks and look your magnificent future square in the eye. Pay attention. Surprise yourself. There is so much to do. Rise like the Phoenix and make this the beginning you’ve dreamed of.
I’m so honored to have been asked by Chancellor Alexander to greet you from the UW System. Green means go everybody. Thank you so much.