University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Commencement Speech, December 18, 2021 by Troy Streckenbach, Brown County Executive
Congratulations University of Wisconsin – Green Bay graduates!
Today is a special day. You did it! You are here today with your family, spouses, children, parents, friends, university faculty, the staff and board of trustees of the university, special guests from your community, and colleagues to celebrate a major accomplishment.
I’d like to begin with a quote from Abraham Lincoln, who said: “Upon the subject of education, not presuming to dictate any plan or system for respecting it, I can only view it as the most important subject which we as a people can be engaged in.” (Lincoln, 1832). The great American President understood that the key to the betterment of society was education.
Today we are celebrating a commencement, a beginning, or a start. As someone who believes in lifelong learning, it is my hope that this is only the beginning of your educational journey.
For many of you, the path to this commencement has not been an easy one. You may have heard the phrase “Nothing in life is easy”. However, most haven’t heard the rest of the Louis Sachar quote, which goes on to say, “But that’s no reason to give up, you’ll be surprised what you can accomplish if you set your mind to it.” (Stanley)
These challenges you have faced could have been the coursework and study you have chosen to undertake, it may have been working jobs to help pay for school, taking care of a family member or loved one who is ill, or even the pressure of being the first in your family to attend college. There were times when I am sure you wanted to give up, when it wasn’t so easy to get that homework or paper done, but you did it. You persevered – and it paid off.
Celebrate your job well done, and, as you revel in your accomplishments, be sure to give your families and significant others a big THANK YOU hug for all the times that they were there to support you as well. While you are at it, be sure to thank your professors for all they did to assist you.
UW-Green Bay’s mission and vision is the belief that learning never stops and working toward equitable access for all. It has served to assist you to achieve your goals as well. Much like Abraham Lincoln, leaders of your college understand that the betterment of society begins with education.
As the chief elected officer in Brown County, Chancellor Michael Alexander, and I both agree that carrying forward a vision of fearlessly meeting challenges, solving problems, embracing diversity, caring about our region are what make our community a wonderful place to be while honoring the innovative spirit of the founders of the University through these actions. I want to recognize and thank Chancellor Alexander at this time for providing me this opportunity to share in this special day with you!
I believe in this university and I believe in the talent that is here – tasked with educating future generations of individuals who will go on to become elected and community leaders, entrepreneurs, philanthropists, and parents. Some of you may move on to other parts of the globe, while others will remain here in Northeastern Wisconsin.
And it was this realization that motivated me to champion the Brown County STEM Innovation Center and the Richard J. Resch School of Engineering. In addition, it’s motivated me to focus on developing the Phoenix Innovation Park. The reasons for my personal motivation go back to when I first decided to run for office. I believe that our region needed to focus on the concept of “brain gain versus brain drain”. For our region to compete on a global scale, investment in UW-Green Bay became a top priority so Northeast Wisconsin can begin to become a hub of skilled workers, educated and motivated, to ensure a prosperous future for our community.
Thus, the partnership in setting up our region’s future was born. A unified set of ideas, and the will to make those ideas a reality. UW-Green Bay and Brown County will continue to create the opportunity for future generations to excel and grow – but we can only provide the infrastructure and opportunity. It’s incumbent upon young people like yourselves to take the ball and run with it.
A second quote I’d like to use is from author Isaac Asimov, who once said: “the only constant is change.” (Asimov, 2004). Our world is constantly changing. When I was your age, the Walkman was the biggest rage; today, it’s all about Smartphones with Bluetooth technology; and tomorrow, I’m sure, will bring something new.
In order to keep up with these changes, we need to be willing to continue to grow ourselves. When you made the choice to walk through the doors of UW-Green Bay, you started the growth process, and when you chose to stay, regardless of the challenges ahead of you, you continued that process. Adaptability is a great quality to have, to be able to adjust to new and changing conditions, with the capacity to have your mind and feelings modified for a new purpose. This may occur to you personally, professionally, at home or in the workplace, through technology or human interaction.
Be flexible, be willing to learn, try new things, handle different workflows – the “old way” of doing things may not be the “best way” of doing things. These skills are in demand – just like your thirst for knowledge and education. Always be improving yourself, because you never know what the future holds – only that it will change.
Part of going out into the so-called “real world” that I can proffer as pro-tip is to start investing in yourself. There is no greater investment within your own personal development. Experiencing adversity is a great excuse for people not to take charge of their lives. We all face adversity in some way. What makes one individual succeed and another not is how they handle their adversity. Many of us allow challenges to defeat us. What we need to focus on is developing into a stronger and wiser individual because of the challenges. There is no better way to do so than by developing your internal world.
A third quote I will use comes from none other than Steve Jobs – he’s the reason many of you are holding Apple devices and products today. He was a believer in not wasting your time. Sounds simple – right?
But his exact words from a commencement address given to Stanford University graduates was, “Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” (Jobs, 2005).
As you leave here today ready to turn your hard work and your dreams into reality, I hope you never lose that will to learn. You reached one goal here today when you earned your degree but remember this is an intermediate goal that has prepared you to take another step forward.
Finally, I will leave you with one final quote that comes from a poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson (Emerson, 2018):
To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty;
To find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived;
That is to have succeeded.
I wish every one of you much success in life.
Watch the 9:30 a.m. Commencement Celebration (45:44 for Troy Streckenbach’s remarks)