More than 70 new graduates received associate degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Baraboo/Sauk County on Sunday, surrounded by family, friends and faculty who supported them.
During an outdoor ceremony, Student Government Association President Justin Fuller told a couple stories about his transformation from “a shy boy that stuck to what he knew” to a leader who loves learning and has the desire to seek a deeper meaning in the world around him.
“Take what you’ve learned with you,” he advised his fellow graduates. “Regardless of your future plans, take what you’ve learned here and accomplish your goals. I was told once that your education is one of the only things in life the proverbial ‘they’ can never take away from you, and that’s why I place such an immense value on the degree I will be receiving today.”
Former University of Wisconsin System President Kevin P. Reilly delivered the commencement address, telling students to celebrate their accomplishments and embrace their next challenges while remaining true to themselves.
“Now it’s about what you do with what you’ve got,” he said.
Reilly also thanked UW-Baraboo Dean Tom Pleger — who soon will leave to become president of Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan — for his eight years of service.
“Just as we’ve been lucky to have him here, they are going to be very lucky, they’ll learn soon, to have him there,” Reilly said. “His commitment to students, his passion for the liberal arts, his thoughtfulness, his wisdom, will be tremendous assets in his new role. And we hate to see him leave the UW family.”
Pleger wife Teresa, who works in student affairs, received cheers. “It’s been a privilege and an honor to serve as the campus dean for eight years,” Pleger said.
He said the campus and community have had a tremendous influence on the couple’s lives. “We will never forget our time here, and I want to thank you,” he said.
Pleger encouraged students to reflect on their successes as they look ahead. “Be proud of what you’ve accomplished, how your experiences have changed your perceptions and your view of the world,” he said.
Diana Verwey, 29, was one of Sunday’s graduates.
“Today is a stepping stone,” she said, adding that the event marks a passage to something more in her life.
The Baraboo resident has been styling hair for the past 10 years, but she felt called to return to school. She plans to pursue the university’s bachelor of applied arts and sciences degree and eventually start a career in social work.
Verwey said she enjoyed the small campus atmosphere and the opportunity to really get to know her instructors and classmates.
After professor Annette Kuhlmann came up and gave her a hug after the ceremony, Verwey said the woman had been a great source of inspiration and encouragement.
Several faculty, staff and community awards were presented Sunday. The Student Government Association presented its Faculty Excellence Award to Frances Auld, its Staff Excellence Award to Tamara Lavender and special recognition to Lauren Love and Claire Reinke.
Love also received the Arthur M. Kaplan Award for teaching, and Bob Oneson received the university’s Staff Excellence Award. State Rep. Fred Clark, D-Baraboo, and State Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, received the Dean’s Distinguished Service Award.
Tom Wells and Nancy Soma were recognized for their retirements, and Baraboo Mayor Mike Palm and Sauk County Board of Supervisors Chairman Marty Krueger received honorary degrees.