In her commencement address, student speaker Abby Tower implores her classmates to continue to rise and invest… in relationships, in communities, in people.
Hi UW-Green Bay Class of 2021,
I hope this speech finds you well during these unprecedented times. This has been the catchphrase of the past year, but I still vividly remember the first time hearing those words: “Good Afternoon, these are unprecedented times. Classes will be virtual for the next two weeks.”
And in that moment, I knew I had prioritized the wrong thing.
Because when everything went virtual, when we added the new words “social distancing,” “face masks,” and “Microsoft Teams” to our vocabulary, it wasn’t the grades that I wanted most. It wasn’t the internship title. It wasn’t even “Tiger King” or sleeping in. It was people.
Up until that point in the semester, I had spent all of my time narrowly focused on my classes with the mindset that if I could just secure a high enough grade, I could ease back at the end of the semester. If I could just complete everything early, I could spend the rest of the time with my friends.
And that never happened. And that’s time I did not get back. Lesson learned.
If the past year in the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s the importance of people. It’s the value of investing in our relationships in ways that are inconvenient and at times incredibly difficult. It’s the choosing to be aware of the needs in our community when it’s easier to look away, and it’s the joining in with compassion to support those around us.
Graduates, each one of us has worked so hard to get here today, and I am truly proud of us all. While each of us leaves with a degree, we are leaving with so much more than a piece of paper, a line on our resume, or a few extra letters at the end of our names. We are leaving with the knowledge and skills to go out into our communities, to be change-makers and advocates for the causes we believe in. Throughout our time at UWGB, we weren’t just training for jobs or even learning how to “adult,” we were being transformed into global citizens with an awareness of the world and how we could personally make a difference.
I would not be here speaking to you today without the help of my own community. To my family, thank you for your enduring love and support, for letting me pursue my own path, and for encouraging me along the way—no matter how many changes to my majors and minors it took me to get here. To my friends, thank you for the late-night fast-food runs, the memes and jokes that made me laugh until I cried. In all seriousness, I’m truly honored to call you some of my favorite people, and I will forever be grateful to UW-Green Bay for bringing us together.
Thank you to the faculty and staff, who dedicated so much time and energy to support us in our intellectual and personal journeys, who challenged us to think critically and independently, and this last year, who worked tirelessly at a minute’s notice to adapt to the circumstances of the pandemic—from in-person classes to virtual, hybrid, and other modalities I didn’t even think were possible.
Thank you to those working in tech who kept us connected in new ways; to the custodial staff and food service workers who risked their lives and safety to make returning in-person, possible; and to the healthcare workers who served on the frontlines to keep us safe and healthy.
We recognize those we have lost during the pandemic. May their memory be a blessing.
And to my fellow graduates, I am so proud of your resilience, rising up from the various challenges the pandemic brought in the true spirit of a Phoenix. As we go forward, some of us will be starting jobs while others will be continuing our education. Some of us will strengthen our roots and continue to call Green Bay home, while others will enter new communities. No matter where you end up, invest in relationships, invest in communities, invest in people.
Congratulations Class of 2021 – we did it!