Graduation Speech

December 22, 1997

UW-RF Graduates are Left With A Laugh

If graduation ceremonies are a time for celebration at the accomplishment, then they also can be a time for laughter.

That was the tack taken in the commencement address on Dec. 21 at UW-River Falls by its speaker, psychology Professor Brad Caskey.

"My Graduation Speech," as Caskey titled the presentation, was a compilation of thoughts written by "Brad"--as Caskey was identified while attending the University as an undergraduate in the 1970's--and "Dr. Caskey," who was expected to deliver the final product.

Caskey was selected to deliver the speech to 264 undergraduate and graduate degree candidates because of his selection as the the 34th recipient of the highest University honor, that of its Distinguished Teacher.

Selection for the award is through polling of graduating seniors and recent graduates.

The 3M Corporation also was recognized with the UW-RF Outstanding Service Award during the ceremony at the Robert P. Knowles Physical Education and Recreation Center.

Representing the company to receive the award was Duane Hall, manager of 3M's health physics services division. Hall is a 1962 UW-RF graduate and a member of the University's Foundation Board.

In presenting the award Chancellor Gary A. Thibodeau cited the corporation's more than $275,000 in scholarships, matching gifts and equipment donations to the UW-RF Center of Excellence in Undergraduate Physics & Chemistry.

Most importantly, he said, was the continuous time and talent the corporation's employees lend to the University in directing internship experiences and assisting faculty and students.

Caskey's lighthearted approach to the ceremony took the form of his recalling how the student "Brad" was handed the assignment at the start of the fall semester, but put off writing the commencement speech until the last moment. He noted the speech was accompanied by a Post-It Note that explained why it was late:

"I am sorry that my paper was a few days late, but on Monday my nanno kitty got sick and I had to rush to the store to buy a new set of batteries. On my way to the store, my car got a flat tire, my great aunt died and I got strep-throat. The dean of students office can provide you with a note documenting these disasters if you need one," "Brad" explained.

The speech provided a transition between the generation of the graduates and the generation of their parents: it delivered social commentary that paralleled the speeches or writings of several well-known persons.

Or as the note explained:

"Thus, my main inspiration was a song from the 1960s titled 'Abraham, Martin, and John Song' by a guy name Dion. My dad once told me that back in the 1960s there was no cable nor color TV and everyone was black and white. That must have been cool. So, with reference and respect to three figures from America's past, Abraham, Martin and John, (for those of you under 30, that's Lincoln, King Jr, and Kennedy), I bring you my graduation speech."

Borrowing the format of the Gettysburg Address, Caskey recalled the trials and tribulations of attending 8 a.m. classes, long research papers, and trudging to school through snowstorms.

Kennedy's Inaugural Address was the inspiration for another passage. Caskey noted that students would receive a plea from the Foundation to donate to the University. Paraphrasing from Kennedy, he suggested:

"Thus I say to you, ask not what the University of Wisconsin - River Falls can do for you, but rather what you can do for the University of Wisconsin - River Falls."

From King he added: "I had a dream that someday, all students - freshmen, sophomores, juniors, seniors and graduate - will understand that asking a faculty member, "Are you going to go over anything interesting or important in class today?" does constitute a stupid question."

Ending his speech with an "obligatory quote," Caskey recalled that each of the last few decades had a spokesperson who suggested people should seek peace and harmony with others.

The media spokesperson for the 1990s, Caskey said, should be Barney the Dinosaur:

"I love you. You love me. We're One Happy Family!" Caskey concluded. Caskey was previously recognized in 1995 as the Outstanding Teacher in Social and Behavioral Sciences for the College of Arts & Sciences.

Before coming to UW-RF, he taught at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Wash., and at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn.

His master's and doctorate are in developmental psychology from Purdue University, and his bachelor's degree is in psychology and secondary education from UW-River Falls.

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