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Graduates Say Farewell to Their Campus Home for New Horizons

MAY 14, 2005--Discovering a new "home" on campus was a common thread in the speeches by seniors Nick Sirek and Nicole Smith, who addressed a crowd of graduates, parents, educators, and others at spring commencement May 14 at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls Knowles Center.

A speech by the 2005 Distinguished Alumnus and River Falls native Stephen Swensen, an internationally respected cancer researcher, professor and chair of the radiology department at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, also touched on themes of "home." Virtually all of Swensen's family has been associated with UW-River Falls; his father is a retired dean and his mother, siblings, wife and uncle graduated from UW-RF. His brother, David, and late uncle, Glen Hartman, also received distinguished alumni awards in 1996 and 1983, respectively.

Graduates of the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences, College of Business and Economics, and Graduate Studies attended the morning ceremony and graduates of the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Education and Professional Studies attended the afternoon affair.

For the past 10 years UW-RF graduating seniors have been invited by audition to give the commencement address.

Sirek, who was one of six recipients of the 2005 Chancellor's Award for Excellence, the highest award bestowed upon students, shared his wishes for his colleagues including friendships, a place to always call home, self-confidence, the courage and willingness to change and the opportunity to make a difference.

"When we came to River Falls we moved away from the home we'd know for so long, and started calling River Falls home," said Sirek. "My wish is that you remember you once called this place home, but that you are also able to find a place that makes you give your life to it and you truly live there."

Relationships create the cement of building a home, Sirek said. "My wish for you is that the friends you've made here be your friends for life."

Entering the "real" world after the River Falls experience will have a great impact on everyone the graduates meets, said Sirek. "My wish is that you take the knowledge and experience and lessons you've learned here and use them to make a difference in your communities and workplaces."

Sirek has been active in residential hall councils, UW-RF Student Senate, the Student Center Core Committee and Area Council, which represents nearly 1,100 students on campus. He also worked as a resident assistant, the house manager for theater productions and volunteered as a campus tour guide. Sirek developed a program in Johnson Hall through Big Brothers, Big Sisters, which has grown to be a successful volunteer program on campus.

Smith, of Apple Valley, Minn., who graduates with a B.S. degree in marketing communications, and Sirek, of Birchwood, who graduates with a B.S. in elementary education with minors in language arts and reading, illuminated the common experience of creating a new "home" to which they can return.

Smith discussed the importance of place in the college experience in her speech titled "Falcon's Eye View." She related the student experience with the campus community, calling residence halls places to "build relationships and learn from others" and South Hall as the roots that have inspired and created UW-RF. "Hold on to your roots," she said. "It is the certainty of yesterday that will carry you through the wonder of tomorrow."

"A walk to Knowles at dusk reveals a breathtaking site," said Smith, of traversing the bridge over the South Fork of the Kinnickinnic River and the wooded pathway to the recreation complex. "This sunset will forever encompass the essence of River Falls to me. All my experiences and unlocked doors can be found amidst that sunset."
Smith "Staring down the homestretch to River Falls on a humid August morning took my breath away four years ago, just as it still does today," said Smith. "Whatever tomorrow may bring, expect to see the sunset painting your sky with perfection."

Smith has been an active leader on campus as a resident assistant and residential hall manager. She has served on residential hall councils, the Leadership in Training Committee and the Leadership Center Search and Screen Committee. Smith also is the founder and co-chair of Extreme Life Christian Organization. The campus chapter of the National Residence Hall Honorary committee recognized Smith as "Student of the Year" in 2002, "Resident Assistant of the Year" in 2003 and "Advisor of the Month" in 2004. With a minor in journalism, Smith worked at the UW-RF Student Voice as an editor, business manager and reporter. She was a guest services coordinator for the 2004 Kansas City Chiefs summer training camp.

After the traditional, emotive "Pomp and Circumstance" by the River Falls Brass, a quintet composed of music faculty, Faculty Marshal Nicholas Karolides, the most senior faculty member, called the ceremonies to order.

Retiring Interim Chancellor Virgil Nylander welcomed almost 600 bachelor's and 60 master's candidates at both ceremonies. Presentation for degrees was made by Ginny Coombs, Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs; Stephen Ridley, dean of the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences; Barbara Nemecek, dean of the College of Business and Economics; Douglas L. Johnson, director of Graduate Studies; Gorden Hedahl, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences; and Connie Foster, dean of the College of Education and Professional Studies.

Among those recognized at the ceremony included the 2005 Distinguished Teacher, economics Professor John Walker. Congratulatory messages were delivered by Professor Barbara Werner, chair of the Faculty Senate, and Matt Schuelke, Student Senate president. Finally the graduates were welcomed into the UW-RF alumni family by Jeffrey M. McCardle, chair of the UW-River Falls Foundation Board of Directors.

Graduating seniors Marissa Olson of Fridley, Minn., majoring in modern language, and Cordell Wesselink, from Beldenville, majoring in theatre arts, sang the National Anthem and the UW-RF Pledge Song at the ceremonies.



Last updated: Tuesday, 22-Jun-2010 16:21:24 Central Daylight Time

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