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UW-River Falls Commences 277 Graduates

December 19, 1998

Some 277 bachelor's and master's condidates participated in commencement ceremonies at UW-River Falls on Saturday, Dec. 19, at the Robert P. Knowles Physical Education and Recreation Center.

They were joined by nearly 2,000 family members who celebrated the two-hour ceremony that also witnessed a first for the University as 42 paricipants received diplomas from the new School of Business and Economics. Nicholas Anderson of Grand Rapids, Minn., was the first baccalaurette recipient for the School, which was formed by the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents in 1996.

Conferring degrees were Chancellor Gary A. Thibodeau, Provost and Vice Chancellor Robert Milam, Graduate School and College of Education Dean Karen Viechnicki, College of Agriculture, Food & Environmental Sciences Dean Gary Rohde, College of Arts and Sciences Dean Gorden Hedahl, and School of Business & Economics Director Neal Prochnow.

Also recognized during the ceremony with the University's Outstanding Service Award were emerti-faculty member Bill Sperling, as well as Cenex/Land O'Lakes and Farm Credit Service of Northwest Wisconsin.

The commencement address was delivered by Professor David A. Pepi, the University's Distinguished Teacher. A member of the College of Education & Graduate Studies department of teacher education. Pepi was the 35th recipient of the most prestigious award presented by the University to recognize excellence in fulfilling its primary mission of undergraduate education. Selection for the award is through polling of graduating seniors and recent graduates. In recognition of his selection, Pepi was invited to deliver the Fall Commencement address.

At UW-RF, he teaches such undergraduate courses as science techniques in elementary education, middle schools and secondary schools, as well as graduate courses in elementary school science. His specialization in environmental issues was reflected in his address.

Pepi urged the graduates not to lose sight of human relations as society continues to rapidly expand its reliance on technology.

As a metaphor, Pepi recalled the climax of the popular science fiction movie, "Star Wars." He related that at the critical point in the story, the hero Luke Skywalker turned away from the use of cutting edge technology to rely on his own judgment and skills as he was confronted with destroying the ultimate technological weapon of the Death Star.

"As you prepare o begin your professional careers you will be in the same situation" of choosing between technological solutions or independent thinking, Pepi said. "What you must come to terms with are the dark forces of technology that are pulling us apart."

Pepi explained that his concern was that the rapid advance of technology has led to technological thinking that affects how people perceive the world and how they relate to it. Individuals and relationships to others are becoming removed from the process. The result is a reduction of people and items as "nameless, faceless raw materials." There is too much emphasis on quick gratification of peoples' appetites driven by market considerations.

As a simple example of how quality can quickly go by the wayside, he contrasted the modern and old-fashioned ways of making popcorn. Today, he noted, it is quickly cooked in a mircowave. In the past it required a family decision that included choosing the right wood, selecting the kernels and sharing the family experience of cooking the food. "Only the best materials would do."

"Technological thinking is destroying our connection to the things that have made us what we are. We are hand-crafters. We must appreciate things as things, rather than as raw materials over which we exercise our power."

Pepi said he was neither advocating a return to old-fashioned ways nor rejecting the advance of technology. Rather, he urged the graduates to limit its influence in their own lives and to practice their professions as handicrafters.

Pepi joined the faculty in 1990 after teaching at the University of Montana-Missoula. He holds a bachelor's degree from Humbolt State University, and a master's and doctorate from Cornell University.

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