Degree Awarded Posthumously

University of Wisconsin - River Falls

Dec. 18, 1996

Student's Dream of Degree Posthumously Comes True

A dream was fulfilled for Mark C. Peters on Dec. 15 when he posthumously was awarded an Associate Degree from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.

The degree was conferred at the commencement ceremonies by Chancellor Gary A. Thibodeau and presented to Peters' mother, Nancy Henck of Turtle Lake, Wis.

An animal science major at UW-RF from the 1985 through 1989, Mark withdrew due to complications from a brain tumor. He died in June, 1990.

The University learned of what had been Mark's wish to receive a degree after UW-RF Registrar Judy George came read a letter to the editor of the St. Paul Pioneer Press last May. Henck had responded to a public debate about the appropriate methods to respond to the wishes of a dying child. In that letter she noted that Mark "also had a wish-to be able to graduate from the University of Wisconsin at River Falls. He didn't get his wish."

After reading Mrs. Henck's letter, George teamed up with her husband, animal and food science Professor Philip George, to pursue whether Mark's wish could be granted.

Working with University records and reviewing Mark's academic record, the Georges, Thibodeau and Dean Gary Rohde of the College of Agriculture, Food & Environmental Sciences, confirmed his identity and concluded he qualified for an associate degree that recognizes his completion of two years of general education studies.

Thibodeau then contacted Mrs. Henck to notify her of the conferral and to invite her to participate in the ceremony.

Mrs. Henck recently related that Mark was diagnosed with cancer in 1987 and that his doctors gave him 3-5 years to live. After one of his monthly trips to St. Paul Ramsey Medical Center for treatment, he told his mother that his wish was to graduate from UW-RF.

"It was very tough on the day we had to turn his books in and move him from the AGR house because we all knew he was coming home to die," Mrs. Henck recalled.

As a remembrance, his family established the Mark C. Peters Memorial Scholarship to help ease the financial burden for other students. Each year the $300 stipend is awarded to a student active in the Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity or the Block & Bridle Club, who has an active interest in the field of meat and animal production, and is a past or present member of the Future Farmers of America.

On Dec. 15, Mrs. Henkes and five family members and friends braved a winter storm that dumped eight inches of snow in River Falls to join the celebration as 350 students participated in commencement exercises for undergraduate and graduate degrees at the Robert P. Knowles Physical Education & Recreation Center.

At the beginning of the degree conferral ceremony, Mrs. Henck stepped forward to receive Mark's Associate degree from Chancellor Thibodeau.

"UW-RF didn't have to do this, but it sure has made all of us feel good," Mrs. Henck said afterward. "Sunday was the icing on the cake. It was a hard day for us but everyone at UW-RF made us feel great."

Thibodeau was equally pleased about the University's ability to confer the degree.

"One of the things that we like to talk about at River Falls is the ambiance of the campus and our relationships between students, faculty and staff. The caring of the faculty was so apparent when Mark was here as a student, and it was apparent in how the faculty and staff responded to pursuing fulfilling his hope for a degree.

"It was a wonderful interplay of faculty and academic staff looking at the facts of Mark's completion of the degree. It speaks louder perhaps than words of the relationship here between our students, faculty and staff."

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