Psychologist Frederick J. Heide, Ph.D., is an award-winning associate professor with the state of California’s leading graduate school of professional psychology. He’s also a musician, actor and comedic playwright with Door County’s popular American Folklore Theatre troupe.
His address, then, to a full house at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay’s December 2012 mid-year graduation ceremony was about what you’d expect.
Wide-ranging, humorous, thought-provoking, and entertaining.
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The 1974 graduate of UW-Green Bay had a packed hall of more than 2,000 at the Weidner Center for the Performing Arts in laughter for much of his time at the lectern. Among the highlights:
• Local roots, stretching way back — “I graduated from Green Bay East High School around the time that Julius Caesar conquered Gaul.”
• His decision to transfer to UWGB — “I went off to UW-Madison for a year, but my friend John Hansen kept telling me about this amazing new university they were building on the outskirts of Green Bay. The professors were wonderful, all the departments were interdisciplinary, and they had this really cool mascot named after a city in Arizona.”
• On his major, abbreviated on his transcripts as ANAL SYN — Despite the name, “Analysis-Synthesis was a great major, a sort of a humanities cocktail: A shot of history, two ounces of philosophy, a dash of literature, and a slice of lime. I was able to drink deeply from the fount of knowledge, which is just as tasty as Point Beer and doesn’t leave you with a hangover.”
• On an undergraduate research project involving the psychology and culture of hitchhiking, in which he and a friend thumbed it all the way to Vancouver, and back — “Our main finding was … If you are a long-haired college student wearing an Army Surplus jacket in the middle of Saskatchewan at night and it’s raining, you are what we call SOL: Sure Out of Luck.”
• On turning down a job offer from UC-Berkeley because it wouldn’t have allowed him summers with AFT in Door County — “Take a prestigious job at the Number 1 public university in America, or write a folk musical for campers in a Wisconsin state park? I decided to write the folk musical. Most people would probably think this was nuts, but fortunately I’m a psychologist and professionally qualified to shrink my own head.”
He also shared a tale from his early 1970s time in the old Bay Apartments involving friends in adjacent apartments who connected their respective living quarters by cutting an unauthorized hole in the drywall. Covered by fabric tapestries, the DIY engineering project served its purpose until a 90-pound black lab kept surreptitiously by one of the tenants (and prohibited in the rental contract, of course) burst through the fabric barrier during a visit by the landlord.
Heide closed his address with praise for his alma mater — “I’ve taught grad students for 30 years and very few are trained to think as critically as you have been,” he told the graduates — and with a challenge to UW-Green Bay’s newest alumni.
Don’t neglect family, or public service, with a too-narrow focus on career pursuits. Heide also told the graduates that research in his field, psychology, has demonstrated that the principles that lift mankind’s spirits are the same ones enshrined by the world’s great spiritual traditions: “Forgiveness, gratitude, kindness, observing the present moment without judgment, compassion for others and, just as important, compassion for ourselves.”
Choose your role wisely, he said, and make your life matter.
“We won’t do it perfectly… But that doesn’t matter. We are the Phoenix. We may be burned and yes, crumble into ashes. And yet, if we put into practice the principles upon which this university was founded, then from those ashes we shall always rise once more and soar….”