'Eco U' grad stresses entrepreneurship, ecology

Neil Diboll, Class of 1978, Commencement speaker

Graduating from college during a major economic downturn? Have a passion for something, and a great idea, too? Start your own business!

That was one of the messages shared at UW-Green Bay’s mid-year graduation ceremonies on Dec. 18 when Neil Diboll, Class of 1978, returned to deliver the Commencement address.

“Most things worth doing do not come easily,” Diboll told the graduates, descibing his own experience. “If you follow your dream, you also have to survive a few nightmares along the way. But you will have the opportunity to create your own reality and pursue what you feel is best suited for you.”

Diboll is president of Prairie Nursery, which ships native seeds and plants nationwide from its headquarters in Westfield, Wis., and designs and installs attractive, eco-friendly landscapes throughout the Midwest and Northeast United States. Among the firm’s high-profile clients are the Blackwolf Run and Whistling Straits golf courses near Kohler, Alliant Energy headquarters in Madison and the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago.

Keith WhiteDiboll studied at UW-Green Bay during the height of its “Eco U” heyday, earning a degree in Environmental Sciences.

He contributed to the early development of the University’s Cofrin Arboretum and its restored prairie, since renamed the Keith White Prairie in honor of a distinguished faculty member. In his remarks, Diboll paid tribute to White, his mentor, who was seated in the audience (at center of row, photo at left.)

White was tough but fair, and a gifted teacher, Diboll said.

He also shared his own story of borrowing money from friends and family, in 1982, to purchase the one-acre operation in central Wisconsin that would become Prairie Nursery. At the time, native landscaping and prairie gardens were relatively uncommon. Diboll said he nearly starved his first five years in business, before the concept gradually caught on.

Diboll emphasized that the interdisciplinary nature of his UW-Green Bay education gave him a foundation to move beyond being a prairie biology specialist to learn the skills necessary to grow his business.

“I hadn’t taken any college courses in business, accounting, human resources, employee management, marketing, contract law, facilities planning, or other topics critical to business success,” Diboll told the graduates. “However, what I did learn at UWGB was how to think critically. This was the single most important skill I took away from my time here, and it allowed me to learn new skills and apply them in a systematic and coordinated fashion.”

He encouraged the graduates, and others in the audience, to be good stewards of the earth. A strong society cannot flourish if it degrades the natural environment, he argued. He closed with a plug for his alma mater.

“I chose UW Green Bay because of its interdisciplinary and environmental focus. It has stood me in good stead in the 32 years since I graduated. Coming to UW Green Bay was one of the best decisions of my life. I hope that in 30 years all of you can say the same.”

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