Julie Van Straten, a 1991 UW-Green Bay graduate and attorney whose corporate career included roles as vice president and general counsel for UnitedHealthcare, the nation’s largest single health carrier, delivered the commencement address Saturday, May 16, at her alma mater.
Van Straten addressed the audience of nearly 5,000 by introducing herself as a Green Bay native who, as a first-generation college student, paid her way through school by working full-time at Shopko, later at Walmart and also on an assembly line riveting toilet paper and paper towel dispensers — “about as Green Bay as you can get.”
She encouraged the grads to be Green Bay — and UW-Green Bay — proud.
“You are all graduating from the coolest alma mater possible,” she said. “There is nothing better than being in another state, at a meeting or boardroom in California, New York, Des Moines, Iowa, wherever… and someone asks, ‘where did you do your undergrad?’ and you proudly answer, ‘the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.’ They love it. They love the name, they love Green Bay.
“It’s the Packers. It’s the history of championships, of a community-owned team with a season ticket waiting list of ten million years. It’s a solid work ethic and Midwest nice, It’s our champion Phoenix in the Horizon league. It’s the school’s academic reputation. It’s all of this rolled together. It’s a special place, and this special place now has a place on your resume.”
Van Straten confided she was unsure of her direction early in her own college career, but soon found her passion at UW-Green Bay. She changed career plans, shifting from elementary education to pre-law. She majored in English and Humanistic Studies.
“For those of you who don’t know, an English major or liberal arts major can be a great foundation for a lot of careers, including law,” said Van Straten, who went on to earn a law degree from Marquette University.
She described her career experience in the rapidly changing health insurance industry, and talked about the challenges of corporate reorganizations and buyouts, travel, and raising a young family.
Van Straten said she chose the theme for her commencement address about a month ago.
“I took my kids to ‘Mythbusters’ at the Weidner Center,” she said, “and as we were driving out here on Highway 172, we passed a billboard for UWGB that read ‘Champions Made Here’” in reference to the University’s status as higher education partner of the Green Bay Packers.
Van Straten noted the definition of a “champion” is much more than the sports meaning of a single winner triumphant at the end. She asked the graduates to consider all the ways they already are, or will be, champions.
- Be a champion for change. “… (If I enjoyed success it was because) I could adapt to change and could even put on a good game face of embracing change while it was happening. Whether it is in the workplace or in life, the lesson is change is for certain, so embrace it. Not all change is bad.”
- Be a champion for those around you. “Your boss, your company, your peers, your team members, and your family, your friends. As it related to my work, I always said my job was to make my boss look good… Also support your peers and support your team. Help everyone look good.”
- Be a champion for your community “We have all heard the word ‘champion’ used as a champion for a cause, or for a person. I learned so much sitting on community boards like United Way, The Women’s Fund, the Chamber or Community Foundation…..not-for-profits are all like mini-companies and I always said that serving on community boards was like going through a free, mini-MBA case study — addressing their issues and supporting their growth.”
- Be a champion networker. “I always tried to meet and know as many people as I could. UnitedHealth Group had over 122,000 employees and while I clearly didn’t know them all, I tried to know as many as I could. The same held true for our community… If you are staying in Green Bay, get connected with Current, the young professionals organization through the Greater Green Bay Chamber of Commerce. But most importantly, join the UWGB Alumni Network. Stay connected to your alma mater. See who else is in it. Find someone in your area of interest and connect with them on Linked In. Feel free to connect with me there. Keep reaching out and build your network.”
- Be a Champion for yourself, particularly your passions. I am so glad I listened to my heart and switched from elementary education to English/pre-law. It was a better fit for me and my skills and interests, and for someone else, the opposite may hold true. Take what you have learned and experienced at UWGB and go out and embrace your opportunities.”
Van Straten closed by saying, “Congratulations to our University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Class of 2015… our new class of Champions.”