Student speaker makes case for 'playfulness'

Graduating class speaker Amii John

Graduating class speaker Amii John earned her bachelor’s degree in Art with highest honors, summa cum laude. She also earned a warm ovation for her address to her fellow graduates during the Dec. 18 Commencement ceremony at UW-Green Bay.

John shared her personal story of being a cautious, serious returning adult student. It wasn’t until a faculty mentor, former UW-Green Bay Prof. David Damkoehler, convinced her to have fun, take chances artistically, and not be afraid of exploring unknown territory, that her college career took off. John used the word “playful” several times in describing the attitude she adopted toward learning.

She credited Damkoehler for helping her discover, for example, that it best suited her own learning to personalize class assignments and take them in new directions rather than obediently pursue some preconceived expectation. At UW-Green Bay, John said, she discovered what it is “to want to learn.”

John wore items reflecting her Native American heritage at Commencement. Instead of a mortarboard, for example, she wore a turn-of-the-century derby hat, adorned with beadwork and an eagle feather. The hat was given to her as a gift by a tribal elder. The derbies were popular trade items in the 1800s among some Native tribes.

A member of the Cherokee Nation who resides today in Oneida with her family, John was honored during her time at UW-Green Bay for her award-winning art as well as her work promoting cross-cultural awareness and a greater appreciation of Native American Art.

She was co-curator, with UW-Green Bay Curator Stephen Perkins, of this fall’s exhibit “Mostly Indian and Other Fables” at the University’s Lawton Gallery. The show they assembled included current works by dozens of Native artists from the United States and Canada. The project was funded in collaboration with the Wisconsin Arts Board and the Oneida Nation Arts Board.

The show generated significant interest and attendance. John, who minored in Human Development, contributed to the exhibit’s educational component by helping arrange and host visits by school and tribal groups, college classes and Learning in Retirement participants, among others.

John was honored by the UW System last April as a 2010 Outstanding Woman of Color in Education. The award is made to students, faculty or staff and recognizes at least one person on each campus for their contributions to diversity and the status of women.

Chancellor Thomas Harden, Amii John, Scott Furlong
The graduating class speaker is chosen by a committee of the provost and academic deans from nominations solicited campuswide. John posed before the ceremony (above) with Chancellor Thomas Harden, left, and Scott Furlong, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

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