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Last updated:
May 25, 2002

UW-RF Commencement Address Touches Sept. 11

The aftermath of September 11 should lead graduates of UW-River Falls to renew their commitment to the nation and liberty with integrity and ethics, they were told during spring commencement ceremonies on Saturday.

Addressing the 597 bachelor's and master's candidates who participated in commencement ceremonies and thousands of their family members and friends on May 25 was James Hegstrom, a River Falls resident and graduating senior. A double-major in marketing communications and business communications, Hegstrom, became the seventh graduating senior in the modern history of the University to deliver the commencement address. He was among the 665 bachelor's and master's candidates who concluded their academic careers this semester.

Conferring degrees on the new graduates at the Robert P. Knowles Physical Education & Recreation Center was Chancellor Ann Lydecker.

Recognized during the ceremony was Wong How Man, the 2002 Distinguished Alumnus. He is the president and founder of the China Exploration and Research Society and a former photojournalist and expedition leader with the National Geographic Society. His appearance on Saturday culminated a series of lectures and an exhibit this week of his work through his 28 years of exploration, conservation and preservation that has earned him accolades as an "Asian Hero" and recognition as China's greatest living explorer in a poll conducted by Time Magazine.

Also recognized during the ceremony was animal science Assistant Professor Steven Kelm as the 2002 Distinguished Teacher. Kelm was named to receive the highest teaching award accorded at the University through a poll of graduating seniors and recent graduates.

In his commencement address, Hegstrom told the graduates, "As the first graduating class of 2002, we have a responsibility to carry America, with the greatest of pride, to the next level. It is not enough to be patriotic; we must act as Americans with integrity, a strong sense of ethics and positive performance. Renewed significance has been placed on the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In the wake of September 11th, these words are just as important now, as the day they were written."

Hegstrom related a personal experience that occurred just a few weeks after the terrorist attack that he said should serve as an example of service. He severely burned his feet, and after calling for help declined to ride in an ambulance because the cost wasn't covered by his insurance. When police arrived to assist him, "they were willing to do anything they could to help. They were not only helpful, and dignified, they allowed me to keep my dignity," he related.

After he received treatment and returned home, Hegstrom found a pair of new house slippers by his door, left as a gift by one of the officers. "I believe the motto of the police is 'to protect and serve.' These officers did far more than the call of duty would imply." The commencement speaker noted that as Chancellor Lydecker conferred degrees, they are based on the authority invested in her by the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents. They award confers the rights and privileges associated with a bachelor's degree, Hegstrom pointed out.

"Those are beautiful words, but let's look at their meaning," he said. "A right is something that Americans understand quite well. But a privilege is a right with a little something extra; it is a right that we have earned.

"But I submit that there are more than rights and privileges. As college graduates, we have obligations associated with our degrees. No matter what field we're going into, we share the common obligations of integrity, ethics, and positive performance. If we cannot perform with integrity and a strong sense of ethics, we might question whether we have truly earned our rights and privileges," Hegstrom said.

Hegstrom concluded by advising the graduates to "cherish life. It is fragile. As we celebrate today, let us remember those we have lost at this University and around the world during the past year.

"Understand and appreciate your liberty. As Americans, freedom is a way of life. It is our job to protect it.

"But just as important as life and liberty is the pursuit of happiness. Whether you walk, wobble, or roll through this life, if you're pursuing happiness, start running. For it is the pursuit of happiness that makes liberty worth having and appreciating; and it is the pursuit of happiness that truly makes life worth living."

Assisting Lydecker in the conferring of degrees was Dean Gorden Hedahl of the College of Arts and Sciences; Dean William Anderson of the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences; Dean Barbara Nemecek of the College of Business and Economics; Interim Dean Connie Foster of the College of Education and Professional Studies and Dean Leon Zaborowski of Outreach and Graduate Studies. Also participating was Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Virginia Coombs.

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