Fashionable chapeaus at Commencement

top-story-capsLong-time observers of UW-Green Bay commencement ceremonies over the years were in agreement: It was an all-time record in both quality and quantity with regard to decorated mortarboards. With apologies to those we missed, here’s just a quick sampling of the many fashionable caps on display at the Kress Events Center during UW-Green Bay’s May 17 commencement.

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Photo by Eric Miller, Marketing and University Communication

Harden’s commencement farewell has big finish


Alec Brown of Winona, Minn., a Business Administration graduate, had the distinction of being on the receiving end of what Tom Harden says was the final diploma presentation and congratulatory handshake of his career as a university chancellor.

Brown was last in line when UW-Green Bay May 2014 commencement wrapped up at the Kress Events Center early Saturday afternoon. About 635 of the nearly 900 students eligible to graduate took part in the ceremony.

Harden is stepping down this summer after five years as UW-Green Bay chancellor. He spent the previous nine years as president of Clayton State University in suburban Atlanta.

“In 14 years, I’ve presided at 28 commencement ceremonies,” Harden said before the ceremony. “I think I shook the hands of between 35,000 and 40,000 graduates.”

How the towering Brown happened to be the last person to cross the stage to receive his degree Saturday involves a bit of a story. It was a tall order to get him to the ceremony at all.

A pro basketball prospect who spent most of the week at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago, Brown was still at or near O’Hare when his fellow grads were taking their places and the first notes of “Pomp and Circumstance” were heard at the Kress shortly after 11 a.m.. His family picked him up at Green Bay’s Austin Straubel International Airport and rushed him to campus.

Had he been present at the start of the ceremony, he would have processed in and, when called upon, crossed the stage with his fellow graduates of Business Administration. By alphabetical order of majors, Business awards its diplomas early in the program. He arrived after the Business degrees had been handed out but before the final majors — Theatre, and Urban and Regional Studies — had been called forward to accept their diplomas as part of the two-hour ceremony. So he took the last seat in the last row of chairs on the nearly filled Kress Center Floor.

Brown was one of the top 60 collegiate basketball players in America taking part in the invitation-only combine. A sharp-shooting center who led this year’s Phoenix team to a 24-7 record and NIT bid, he was a first-team Horizon League selection and a nationally ranked shot blocker named Horizon Defensive Player of the Year.

Not only was Brown the final graduating senior to cross the stage Saturday, he was also by far the tallest — of this or any commencement in UW-Green Bay’s nearly 50-year history. He was measured at 7-1 earlier in the week at the draft combine, where prospects interview with and work out for NBA coaches and executives.

100 reasons to celebrate as great-grandson graduates

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Honoria Huila, 100 years old, had a great seat for Saturday’s UW-Green Bay commencement. She watched from the concourse level, straight up from the stage, as great-grandson Youcef Boubenider received his bachelor’s degree in economics. (He joined her a few minutes after the ceremony for an impromptu family reunion.) Saturday’s event wasn’t the first university commencement Mrs. Huila has attended, not by a long shot. The native of Colombia, who came to the United States in 1972, has seen five previous UW-Green Bay graduation ceremonies involving several generations of the Rincon and Boubenider families.

Her commute to ceremony? 2,000 miles

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Well over 50 nursing graduates were eligible to participate in Saturday’s Commencement, but none had a longer distance to cover in order to make the short walk across  stage to receive his or her diploma.

Lehi Lazo (left) took time off from work and traveled in from Oxnard, Calif., to claim the distinction, it is believed, of being the graduate with the longest commute to the May 2014 ceremony. She posed with Associate Prof. Susan Gallagher-Lepak, pre-ceremony, to mark the occasion.

Lazo’s one previous visit to Green Bay was to attend a Packers game, years ago. She works as an RN at Ventura County Medical Center as a pediatrics and neonatal intensive care unit nurse. She took two to three online courses per semester through BSN-LINC (the national, online nursing program) offered by UW-Green Bay.

Gallagher-Lepak points out that Lehi (pronounced LEE-high) is part of a larger trend. A national initiative is under way for nurses with associate degrees in nursing to advance to bachelor’s degrees, with the goal of an 80 percent BSN-prepared workforce by 2020.

The ‘Phuture’ has arrived for former fifth-graders

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Graduating seniors Jenny Mottl and Seenia Thao were asked to pose for a photo before Saturday’s commencement ceremony to mark a UW-Green Bay milestone:  the first diplomas awarded to alumni of the University’s heralded Phuture Phoenix Program.

Back in April 2003, the two young women were fifth-grade participants in what was then a still-new program called Phuture Phoenix.

Now, they epitomize the promise of the University’s signature college attainment program — to show youngsters from at-risk schools that college is possible, to help them see themselves pursuing higher education, and eventually, to support them in achieving college acceptance and completing their university education.

“I love UW-Green Bay and every day I appreciate it even more — especially today,” Thao said Saturday. “It’s a very, very great day for everyone at UW-Green Bay.”

Mottl majored in Spanish. Thao received her degree in Social Work. Thao says she was always planning on attending UW-Green Bay, and her four-year experience confirmed those plans made at a young age were the right choice.

“”I think (my college education) made me see the world more globally,” Thao said before the ceremony. “You know, Green Bay is a small college and it’s very community-oriented — and I grew up in Green Bay — but everything offered here really stimulated all my experiences and really made me see the world differently.”

You can see more on the first Phuture Phoenix alumni to receive bachelor’s degrees, and quotes from Phuture Phoenix director and co-founder, Kimberly Desotell and Ginny Riopelle, respectively, in our original feature story post here.

Poignant moment: awarding of posthumous degree

kenishaUW-Green Bay awarded a rare posthumous degree Saturday in recognition of a popular and accomplished student who passed away after a short battle with leukemia, only months shy of receiving her degree.

KaNisha Flemming of Chilton died Jan. 12 at age 22. She was on track to graduate with a double major in Psychology and Human Development and pursue master’s degree studies with the goal of helping troubled teens.

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The UW-Green Bay faculty voted to award a bachelor’s degree in recognition of Flemming’s academic achievements. Near the beginning of Saturday’s diploma presentations, a short citation was read and Associate Prof. Ryan Martin, chair of Psychology, stepped forward to receive the degree on the family’s behalf. He then walked over to the nearby seating area and presented the degree to Flemming’s parents, seated in the front row, to extended applause by the audience of nearly 5,000 at UW-Green Bay’s Kress Events Center.

Before continuing with the awarding of degrees, Chancellor Tom Harden paused at the lectern to say, “ I also want to personally thank the Flemming family for joining us today. I hope you will take consolation, and some day joy, in the knowledge this University forever remembers your daughter’s accomplishments and contributions.”

At the close of the commencement ceremony, members of the Psychology and Human Development faculty — and several others of the platform party — took time from the recessional to visit briefly with the Flemming family.

Fund-raising continues for a memorial scholarship: Earlier this week, three UW-Green Bay classmates of the late KaNisha Flemming presented to the University nearly $2,000 intended for creation of the KaNisha Flemming Memorial Scholarship. The money was contributed by friends, family and those who took part in various fundraising opportunities earlier this year. The intent is to make an award or awards to a future student or students majoring in Psychology or Human Development. Shannon Badura of University Advancement says additional gifts can be made to the new scholarship. Here is the link for online giving.

Day in photos, Part I: Images from May 2014 Commencement

top-commenceThere are hundreds more where these came from, but here’s our first draft of history — history being May 2014 Commencement at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.  More than 4,000 people in all, including about 635 graduates who participated in the ceremony, filled the Kress Events Center on Saturday afternoon, May 17.

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Photos by Eric Miller, Marketing and University Commmunication

Video: Grateful grads, beautiful images, pomp, circumstance and Class of 2014

The 634 graduates who participated in Saturday’s commencement ceremony had plenty to reflect on from their time at UW-Green Bay. For Phoenix soccer’s Chanel Aries, it was applied learning and a one-of-a-kind education. For Heba Mohammad, a 2012 UW System Outstanding Women of Color in Education Award recipient, it was involvement outside the classroom as well as in. And for Seenia Thao, who with fellow senior Jenny Mottl made history as the first Phuture Phoenix program graduates of UW-Green Bay, it was a global perspective — and an appreciation for her alma mater that deepens every day. For more from these new alumae and plenty of memorable scenes from today’s big event, check out our commencement day video.

Alec Brown puts human exclamation point on Chancellor’s last graduation

There’s an interesting story regarding how Alec Brown of Winona, Minn., a Business Administration graduate and a 7-1 pro basketball prospect, happened to have the distinction of being last in line and on the receiving end of what Tom Harden says was the final diploma presentation and congratulatory handshake of his career as a university chancellor. (Harden is stepping down this summer after five years as UW-Green Bay chancellor.) It’s no tall tale, but neither was it a slam dunk for Brown to arrive for the ceremony in time.