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UW-RF Grads Receive Final Lessons From Veteran Professor

By Molly Exner
UW-RF News Bureau

DEC. 18, 2004--As some 308 bachelor's and master's candidates at UW-River Falls gathered at their commencement ceremony on Saturday, they heard a series of hard-learned lessons about life in the real world.

The graduates were joined by thousands of their family members and friends in the ceremony at the Robert P. Knowles Physical Education and Recreation Center.

Addressing them was history Professor Edward Peterson, recipient of the 2004 Distinguished Teacher award. Peterson, who has been a faculty member with the University for more than 50 years, is recognized as a pre-eminent scholar on Nazi Germany and the Russian Occupation of East Germany and Poland following World War II, having published eight books on the topic. Peterson also served as chair of the social science and history departments from 1963 to 1991.

His address, "What I Have Learned," reflected on personal discoveries from real life experiences outside the classroom.

Among some of his most poignant lessons were the following:
* Good family. Peterson's parents had not been able to finish high school, but made sacrifices to provide him with the education they were denied. Peterson warns, "I don't think I ever thanked my parents enough, which should remind you graduates to thank your parents before it is too late." To create his own family, Peterson found a person who was hard working, smart and had heart. Smarter than he could've imagined, he says of his wife Ursula, who "smashed any illusion of male superiority."

* The importance of a public school system. Peterson says the system takes in any child and tries to give them all an equal chance. He credits having some wonderful teachers who helped him notice the talents of his peers. Peterson recalled one boy, who was clearly learning disabled but who could play his violin better than Peterson could play his trombone. Peterson said he learned that everyone can accomplish great things when given an equal opportunity to education.

* Serving God. As a child, Peterson's father was a pastor in the slums of St. Joseph, Mo. In the congregation, he observed many hard-working people who were poor through no fault of their own. Peterson says his spiritual upbringing gave him the appreciation of stewardship, "meaning [that] God had given us talents … that we would share with others." This might help explain why Peterson has not missed a day of teaching since his arrival to UW-RF in 1954.

* Serving country. Peterson, a World War II veteran, says to be careful in life. He learned that people in power can be "really stupid, but powerless people, even in a dictatorship, can avoid following them." While in the service, he said he immersed himself in a different culture and began to see the world from a different perspective. "Controlling the truth is one advantage of winning a war, but otherwise, wars solve one problem and immediately create another."

* Learning as both student and teacher. In college, Peterson says, he was lucky to have a class with the right professor who taught the right subject for him, European and German history. "I knew then that was what I wanted to do with my life, and I have never regretted it." Peterson says teaching keeps him young. "I have felt very much at home among people to whom telling the truth and creating beauty are more important than big salaries."

Peterson added, "The future of our beloved country is up to you. I hope that you will take seriously being blessed as American citizens. You have been given much and from you much can be expected."
He concluded, "I hope when you are old and you are looking at a mass of bright young people, you can say in all honesty, the world is better and some part of that is because of you."

Also at the ceremony, the University's Outstanding Service Award was presented, marking the highest award the University can bestow on a friend of the institution. Recipients of the award include Steve Healy, a 1973 alumnus, who is the president and CEO of Pierce Pepin Cooperatives Services, Inc., in Ellsworth, Wis., and Jim Tiedke, a 1981 alumnus, who is the director of retail services strategic marketing for Agriliance Cooperative in St. Paul, Minn.

Healy plays a pivotal role with the Federated Youth Foundation Board of Directors, which has provided several scholarships to UW-RF students. Tiedke was instrumental in securing donations for the planned construction of the University’s proposed Dairy Learning Center.

UW-RF graduating senior Haylee Hall sang at the ceremonies. Hall, a music major from Shell Lake, Wis., led students, faculty and guests in the "UW-RF Pledge Song" and the "Star Spangled Banner."

Interim Chancellor Virgil Nylander conferred degrees at the commencement ceremonies. Candidates for degrees were presented by Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Ginny Coombs; Dean Stephen Ridley of the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences; Dean Gorden Hedahl of the College of Arts and Sciences; Dean Barbara Nemecek of the College of Business and Economics; Director Douglas Johnson of Outreach and Graduate Studies; and Dean Connie Foster of the College of Education and Professional Studies.


Last updated: Tuesday, 22-Jun-2010 16:21:18 Central Daylight Time

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