Speaker Tells Students to Embrace ‘Adaptation in the face of adversity’

College of Menominee Nation President Christopher Caldwell speaks at UW-Green Bay's spring 2024 commencement.

What’s the best way to place value on a college education? If you ask College of Menominee Nation President Christopher Caldwell, the answer is clear. And important: “Adaption is a value not often considered when people measure the cost of education against future earnings. But, adaptation in the face of adversity and uncertainty is always needed.

Caldwell shared his thoughts on education and the mutual commitment UW-Green Bay and the College of Menominee Nation have in creating resilient problem solvers and fearless leaders for the region. And in doing so, he says “we are honoring the legacy of this land we are on right now.” He was the afternoon speaker at UW-Green Bay’s 2024 Commencement afternoon ceremony held at the Kress Events Center on the UW-Green Bay campus

Christopher Caldwell, President of the College of Menominee Nation, is an enrolled member of the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin. He has led the College since February 2020 and is Caldwell is the fourth person to lead CMN. He has been in a range of positions at the College, including student, director, adjunct, and President. An alumnus of the College, Caldwell began his higher education here at CMN, earning his Associate’s Degree in Sustainable Development. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Natural Resources from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a Master’s Degree in Environmental Science and Policy from UW-Green Bay, and is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Environment and Resources from the UW-Madison Nelson Institute. During his career, Caldwell has served in previous positions focused on sustainability, specifically within the forestry sector: Tribal Resources Director/Compliance, Enforcement Officer for the Menominee Indian Tribe, Forest Products Technician with the USDA Forest Service’s Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, student/intern with the U.S. Department of Interior Bureau of Indian Affairs-NCCE, Timber Market/Forestry Technician with Menominee Tribal Enterprises and more recently as the Director of the Sustainable Development Institute at CMN. 

Watch his remarks at timestamp 22:21. The full remarks he shared with the Graduating Class of 2024 are here:

“Pōsōh nec mamaceqtawak mesek māwaw new weyak (greetings to my fellow movers and to you all). Mahkīw ahnakwat, mamaceqtaw newīhswan mesek Chris Caldwell mōhkamān newīhswan. Awāēsaeh netōtāēm awew. Kesiqnaeh, eneq’skew wekeyan. 

I greet you in the Menominee language, my people’s language, which has been spoken on these lands for thousands of years. 

Chancellor Alexander, thank you for the invitation to speak and for your friendship over these past few years. UWGB Board of Trustees, Faculty, Administration, and Staff wāēwāēnen (thank you) for everything you do to help your students succeed. 

To the family, friends, and supporters, wāēwāēnen for all you have done to help your students meet their goals and for coming to celebrate with them today. For those not with us today. We keep their memories in our hearts as well. 

Now, to the graduating class of 2024. In my people’s language, I say nahāw wēskewat mawaw new weyak! All of you have done an outstanding job! 


It is a great honor to speak to all of you today. Next week, I get to congratulate our own College of Menominee Nation graduates. But fear not; my message today is for you, my soon-to-be fellow UWGB alumni. 

And so, I say, Congratulations again. 

Congratulations to you class of 2024, the “resilient problem solvers and fearless dreamers,” that your families, communities, and the world need today and tomorrow. 

While preparing my remarks, as many speakers do, I thought about how and why I ended up in this place today, with the opportunity to serve. It’s not that I sought out this stage or the opportunity to speak. I’ve always just focused on the work in front of me, how to support my family, my community and hopefully do something I enjoy along the way… 

…the same as all of you. 

Well, as we all know, life has a way of steering us down different paths. 

It probably didn’t hurt that Chancellor Alexander had to hear my bio being read at the numerous events we’ve attended together over the past few years. And one of those times he probably heard I graduated from UWGB with my Masters in Environmental Science and Policy… 

By the way, if you’d indulge me for a minute. I wanted to say wāēwāēnen to the co-chairs of my committee, Dr. Michael Kraft and Dr. John Stoll, who were instrumental in steering me to finish my degree at a time when I was ready to give up. 

I’m sure many of you graduates know a professor or two like that here at UWGB. 

I have a copy of my bound master’s thesis. Ten years later, but better late than never! 

In getting to know Chancellor Alexander, the memory of our first phone call stands out the most in my mind. Although I don’t recall the specific conversation, it happened in the early days of the pandemic when we were both new leaders of our respective institutions. I remember it because I had to drive out to a damn to get a clear cell signal because our campus was closed due to the pandemic, but also a snowstorm that day. 

Now during that time, CMN had moved all our classes online and our staff to remote work within the span of a week. We didn’t have updated equipment, training, policies, or plans to do that. But we did it. I was only about a few months into my tenure, along with other interim executive leaders, and I was desperate to talk to anyone who might offer some guidance. What I found out in talking to Mike that day, was that due to the pandemic, we were all pretty much in the same boat. All we could do was our best. 

That memory, along with many others from the pandemic years, reminded me that despite the obstacles that our institutions of higher education faced, we kept doing the work because of our belief in each of our institutions mission to help our students advance in meeting their academic goals, as they too navigated the pandemic and its impacts. 

Many of you likely remembering your experiences and what you had to do to get by. To continue your academic journey, take care of yourself, your families, and your school and work responsibilities. All while being as uncertain as everyone else as to what would happen next. 

Is it any wonder that UWGB has focused on helping to develop the next generation of resilient problem solvers and fearless dreamers? 

Building the skills of people to adapt and succeed is a critical mission of our higher education institutions. 

Adaption is a value not often considered when people measure the cost of education against future earnings. 

But, adaptation in the face of adversity and uncertainty is always needed. 

In relation to this UWGB focus on problem solving and dreaming, I want to share a short story about the Menominee experience and example… 

The land we stand upon today is part of the 10 million acres of ancestral lands that the Menominee people once occupied and kept a responsibility to until the treaty era in the 1800s. Fifty years of treaty-making with the US government left us with 235,000 acres of those ancestral lands. Our language was almost extinguished. Our social, economic, and cultural lifeways vastly changed. This included the loss of many people who followed dreams as a way of understanding situations and solving problems. 

Yet, despite all this, our leaders, long before my time, saw the importance of preserving and protecting as much of our lands and forests as possible for future generations to be able to make their own decisions. 

The result?   

You can see the outline of the Menominee reservation from space because of our sustainably managed forest compared to surrounding lands that were cut over and transitioned to farmlands in the late 1800s to 1900s. Since our forest management started in the early 1900’s, we have harvested the forest several times over, with more volume of standing timber now than when we started. The diversity of trees, plants, animals, insects, and other non-human relatives, waterways, and ecosystems continue to serve as the backbone of our forest’s strength and by extension, our people’s strength. 

Today, a once endangered language, Omaeqnomenewaeqnesen (Menominee language), is being promoted and revitalized in tribal institutions, like the College of Menominee Nation and the K-12 school systems, in our tribal government, through grassroots organizations, in communities, in families, with individuals, and even across other higher education institutions, like the University of Wisconsin – Green Bay. 

Resilient problem solvers and fearless dreamers? 

The Menominee people are no strangers to those values.   

And, so with the University of Wisconsin Green Bay focus, this means you as graduates of this institution, are a part of honoring the legacy of this land through your actions. 

  1. Our leaders from generations past dreamt and solved problems to ensure the next generations would have an opportunity to live a good life as stewards of this earth. That is us today. 
  2. Despite our present-day adversities and uncertainties, our responsibilities and decision-making should focus on the world our children and grandchildren will inherit as the next stewards. 
  3. The ethics and principles embedded in decisions should include respect and responsibility to each other, the land, and our non-human relatives who share space with us. 

These are lessons that I see evident in the values expressed by UWGB and the experiences of the Menominee people as I know them. These lessons and values are essential in science, engineering, technology development, business, and all other disciplines that received their degrees from UWGB this morning. 

These lessons are also embedded in the work that Dr. Lisa Poupart and the faculty and staff in the First Nations Education Center continue to advance as part of UWGB and these lands they stand upon. 

In closing, I want to share a statement summarizing all of this. During an 1856 Tribal General Council meeting, Chief Oshkosh, one of our tribal leaders, exemplified the values of the Menominee when he said: 

“I wish to pursue a course which will be best for the generations who follow us.” Resilient problem solvers – fearless dreamers. 

Let us pursue a course that will be best for the generations that follow us. 

!!!!!Congratulations Class of 2024!!!!! 

Pemanesekon (Take care of yourselves)  

Eneq (that is all)”

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