Commencement Ceremony Student Speaker
Fall 2019 Connor Loftus
Winter 2019 Tristan Ruiz
Fall 2018 Liberty A. Turner
Winter 2018 Alex Camarillo-Lugo
Fall 2017 Erin McNabb
Winter 2017 Jeulani Gahiji
Fall 2016 Andre Stringer
Winter 2016 Amer Mansoor
Fall 2015 Trevor Case
Winter 2015 Kylee Slough
Fall 2014 Emily Schneider
Winter 2014 Courtney Brown
Fall 2013 Charlotte Cialek
Winter 2013 Robin Feuerman
Fall 2012 Kevin Rush
Winter 2012 Lee Young-Jong
Fall 2011 Lauren Fusilier
Winter 2011 Andrew Foster
Fall 2010 Jordan Graves
Winter 2010 Brenton Fitzpatrick
Fall 2009 Danielle Brandreth
Winter 2009 Jodi Lampi
Fall 2008 Zachary Ziegler
Winter 2008 Aaron Pairolero
Fall 2007 Jessica Compton
Winter 2007 Amanda Frederick
Fall 2006 Jeremy Brown
Winter 2006 Eric Johnson
Fall 2005 Shannon Butryn
Winter 2005 Tara Baker
Fall 2004 Lakeitia Cokley
Winter 2004 Kyle Ortiz
Fall 2003 Elizabeth Koski
Winter 2003 Erin Spencer
Fall 2002 Valerie Miettinen
Winter 2002 Eric Lundin
Fall 2001 Jennifer Shaffer
Winter 2001 Jessica Durfee
Fall 2000 Pamella Janeshek
Winter 2000 Nicholas Vivian
Fall 1999 Laura Scott
Winter 1999 Kristi Gruizenga
Fall 1998 Laura Ballweg
Winter 1998 Meghan Marsden
Fall 1997 Virginia Liedel
Winter 1997 Holger Wagner
Fall 1996 Chante Lasco
Winter 1996 Melanie Ryan
Fall 1995 Krista Jenson
Winter 1995 Carie Kaniszewski
Fall 1994 Emily Peterson
Winter 1994 Matthew Lorenz
Fall 1993 Laura Engler
Winter 1993 Christopher Charboneau
Fall 1992 Diane Nelson
Winter 1992 Sharon Fousek
Fall 1991 Robin Soine
Winter 1991 Jeannie Jafolla & Cem Tanova
Fall 1990 Tammie Johnson
Winter 1990 Rebecca Slough
Fall 1989 Nancy Krusic
Winter 1989 Richard Haverkate
Fall 1988 Fred Bratumil
Winter 1988 William Kroeger
Fall 1987 Michael Bolton

 

Past Commencement Addresses

Good morning, NMU: Members of the Board of Trustees, President Haynes, faculty, staff, families, guests, and my fellow graduates. It is an honor and a privilege to celebrate this momentous day with everyone here!

Being finished with school has never felt so good! Let's take it all in for a second...all of those papers written...all of those hours studying for exams...all of those textbook pages turned... have challenged our physical stamina and coffee consumption skills over the past few years. Not to mention the blizzards and the freezing temperatures at times; I believe that we all have developed a thicker skin. But most importantly, we have perservered, pushed the limits and discovered that unique part of every one of us that is the Wildcat spirit.

For some, the Wildcat spirit has encouraged us to paint our bodies green and gold to cheer a sports team to victory at the Superior Dome or the Berry Events Center. For others, it has inspired breakthrough scientific discoveries in the labs of the New Science building. It could have been that courage felt when deciding to audition at the Forest Roberts Theatre, or join the Brule Run. Personally, it was the drive behind me learning a new language and culture with the French program. But I'm certain that every person graduating today has experienced the overwhelming pride of being a Wildcat during our years here together, and we have the distinct privilege of taking that spirit with us as we go our separate ways.

Going through this marvelous time of transition and promise, have you stopped to think just how significant you are to the world? The decisions that we make and the lives that we touch everyday will make an impact in the course of history. It doesn't matter which occupation we pursue or where we choose to live--we will always have the responsibility of molding the future in our hands. That is why this degree that each of us will receive today is so important. Not only is it an official statement that we have acheived a certain level of intelligence, but it also bears the name Northern Michigan University across it. A name that not only unites us all with fellow Wildcats, but tells the world that we have researched, designed, learned and succeeded with the best.

We are part of the Millenial generation; a generation characterized by some as narcissitic and somewhat lazy. With all due respect to these "experts," I couldn't disagree more. We have all witnessed amazing feats that have happened within these University borders: athletes training every day to reach for the gold...student volunteers helping to rebuild lives both in Marquette and abroad...business students launching ideas that will completely change the world as we know it...artists creating masterpieces in film, on stages and on canvas...The list is exhaustive. That means that every person here today has already redefined our Millenial generation in some way, thanks to the help of our professors and the learning environment of NMU. Now it's time for the next challenge--the challenge to take our commitment of volunteering, our knowledge of our studies, and our determination to succeed out into the world in order to serve, teach, help, and empower people...and redefine the name Millenials to mean "the generation that changed the world."

Congratulations Class of 2014! Every single one of us has already done great things...now is the time to take our Wildcat spirit forward and strive for magnificence!

Thank you

Members of the Board of Trustees, President Haynes, faculty, staff, families, friends, and my fellow graduates; I am honored to say a few words to celebrate the accomplishments of the Northern Michigan University class of 2013!

Take a second to look around at everyone dressed in green robes. We’re glowing with achievement and success. All of us have worked unimaginably hard to get here. Going to college has been more than a job. It has been a drive, a passion, a focus that has been our constant companion and will walk beside us throughout life. It’s given us a wealth of ideas, knowledge, memories, and connections.

When we turn our tassels, our transformation will be complete. We are Wildcats, and we have completed our educational goal. We have resumes, transcripts and letters of recommendation that sing our praises. We made it through “that 400-level class”, the one everyone in our major warned us about…

The tests are done.  The homework is over.  But that’s not all that made us Wildcats.

We Wildcats have walked along the shore of Lake Superior. We’ve jumped into the freezing water in the heat of the summer, maybe under the glowing Northern Lights. And every year, we watched the waves freeze into flows of ice. Wildcats have experienced some of the toughest winter weather in America…and lived to tell the tale. We’ve shoveled our cars, our roommates’ cars, our neighbors’ cars out of snowdrifts. We’ve sent pictures back home to prove to our families and friends that we’re not exaggerating when we say the snow gets this deep. Wildcats may have moved away from home, from across the UP, under the Mackinac Bridge, or out of state, but we found a new home. Wildcats have a special place here in Marquette. We know that from meeting our neighbors, working at the many local businesses, volunteering at the many Marquette celebrations, or raking leaves of the elderly during Make a Difference Day. I don’t know if all of us can truly call ourselves “yoopers” just yet, but for us Wildcats, Marquette has a special place in our hearts.

When I was interning in Washington state last summer, on the shores of the Pacific Ocean instead of Lake Superior, I was walking along in my NMU shirt when to my surprise I heard someone say, “Go ’Cats!” She had graduated from NMU a few years ago. We connected instantly about NMU memories and our favorite places around Marquette.

So, soon-to-be Northern graduates, I would like to ask you something:

When you’re walking the streets of your new home, the next place life takes you, and you see a green-and-gold t-shirt or bumper sticker, be like that NMU grad. When you see an NMU t-shirt or—better yet – when you’re wearing your NMU t-shirt, show your NMU pride. There are Wildcats that have come before you and there are Wildcats that will come after you.  You are a part of something BIG!

I will always be connected to NMU, Marquette, and to you.  In the future, not if but when we cross paths, I’ll be that girl that says ‘Go ’Cats’.  And you, Class of 2013, will be the person who knows what it means! Congratulations, and “Go ’Cats!”

Members of the Board of Trustees, President Haynes, faculty, staff, families, friends, and my fellow graduates; it is an honor to stand in front of you today as we celebrate the accomplishments of the Northern Michigan University class of 2013!

We did it; no more tests, no more papers, no more winter…hopefully!

Way up here in Marquette many of us have spent the past four or five years far away from our families and everything we knew for most of our lives. We often got the question- you live where? The Upper What? Why would you want to go so far away? Isn’t it freezing up there? Well we all know the answer is, yes, it is far away and yes, it is freezing for most of the year.

So why year after year did we make that long drive from below the bridge, or up from Chicago or all the way across from the Dakotas? We did it because we know there’s something very special about being a Wildcat. There is a beauty to NMU, a magic if you will that cannot fully be explained, but it is something that so many of my fellow graduates, myself included, have felt over our time here at Northern. We did it because there is nothing quite as calming as a walk on the shores of Lake Superior or through the woods that surround campus. We did it because there are not many other places where you can be snowboarding fifteen minutes after class. We did it because there is no energy quite like the one that exists when spring finally comes and everyone is playing outside with their Frisbees and guitars. Simply enough we did it because we love the people, the professors, the environment, and everything that makes NMU what it is.

We, as Northern students, have a passion for not only the campus community but the Marquette community as a whole. Our passion is evident in the countless community services hours we have put in, it shows when we spend our money at local business, when we get our produce at the farmers market, on all the bumper stickers, t-shirts, and hats that are adorned with symbols representing Marquette and the UP. This passion for both our school and our local community has created the eclectic and wonderful opportunities we all have had over our time here.

We are all here today celebrating our success as graduates because we followed our passion to be here at Northern, our passion for education; our passion for excellence. As we take our next step in life we must remember how important it is to carry both a passion for what we do and a love for the community we live in. The success we have had academically, athletically, and beyond speak for themselves as proof that doing what you love and being a true citizen of your community is a winning combination.  

Congratulations class of 2013, lets go out there and show the world why its always a great day to be a Wildcat!

Hello everyone,

We’ve finally done it. After four years, no more registering for classes, no more book costs, no more homework. We are finally graduating. For many of us, this is a day filled with excitement and an underlining fear. We have finished a chapter in our lives, a big chapter. And after today, we enter the so-called real world. The world, which we seem to be told every day, is cold and unpredictable. But you know what, when people say this to me, my first thought is always: you know what’s cold and unpredictable, a Northern winter. 

If there is one thing that you, my peers and fellow graduates, have taught me, is that we thrive in the winter. Other schools have fall and spring semesters. We don’t. We have fall and winter. I know this may seem insignificant, but I think it says a lot about all of us. Whenever I am asked what we do in the winter, I can give them a bigger list than in the fall. Time and time again we demonstrate that winter is when we come alive. When others huddle inside, we celebrate.  We build homemade sleds, play broomball in the dark, explore a frozen shore line, bind together and have fun with over 300 student organizations. We make winter not an obstacle, but a part of life. When the rest of the country panics over snow, staying safe on their snow day, you know what we do? We walk to class. That is something to hold on to. 

Northern students are a different breed, we choose to come here, we choose to get up when the cold is stripping all motivation from the world, and we still succeed. All of us came to Northern with potential, often raw material like the landscape around us. But Northern has made us better, education has given us edges, the NMU community strengthened our will, and academic discipline will guide our actions. We came here as metals, but leave here as forged tools that can impact anything we touch. 

The supposed real world, the world that we are about to step into, is not embracing us with open arms. Many of us know the statistics. That 1:2 graduates are either underemployed or unemployed, that job markets aren’t what they used to be, and that opportunity is harder to find than ever. But statistics don’t capture everything. They can’t capture power of will, perseverance or character; they don’t measure potential. Statistically, I shouldn’t be standing here in front of you, I should have failed. I was the first in my family to go to college, a minority, and took four years off between high school and NMU. 

But I am standing here, and I’m standing here not just because of professors, or the overall institution, I am standing here because of you, the students that made me love this place, the students that taught me so much in and out of lecture halls, the students that helped me realize my passions. I am honored to be speaking to you because many of you do not know the changes you have already brought to the people around you, such as me. We need to remember what we have accomplished, the lessons that we have taken from Northern.

The world may seem frigid and covered in ice at times. But it won’t matter. We know when things get cold and unpredictable, the best option is to get up, thrive and do what we have done for the last four years, succeed. I am so proud to graduate with all of you.  Thank you for the last four years. Never forget the north, never forget we are wildcats, and we will change the world. 

Thank You

We Have Arrived

Members of the Board of Trustees, President Wong, faculty, staff, families, friends, and my fellow graduates, it is my profound honor and joy to welcome you all to the December 2011 Northern Michigan University Commencement Ceremony. Thank you to each and every one of you for gathering at this early hour – particularly early for a Saturday after Finals Week – to celebrate. What a wonderful, momentous day!

My fellow graduates – Wow! Well, here we are - finally. After all the months of never quite being sure where the rent was coming from or how we were going to buy groceries for the week, after all the days of hurrying from class to work to another class and all the nights of studying until dawn in the Starbucks lounge, after the countless hours spent staring at a laptop screen, and all the minutes spent stressing over exam scores – we have finally accomplished what we set out to do. We have arrived.

But, this morning, in all the euphoric relief and excitement, I have been asking myself, arrived to what?

According to the U.S. Census Bureau's 2010 Educational Attainment Data, this morning we will all join the ranks of the 15.5% of U.S. citizens who hold a college degree. Further perusal of the 2010 Census Data reveals that, as a part of that 15.5%, we will have access to higher-paying job – jobs in which there will be room for us to move, be it up the corporate ladder, through the glass ceiling, or even into early retirement. However, today, we know this is not always the case. The National Bureau of Labor Statistics also shares data with us, showing that of our population of college graduates, nearly nine percent are unemployed at present and two times more are underemployed.

We have arrived to a "real world" in which there are few jobs to be had, and more people than ever vying for them. The competition will be fierce, but not to worry. We're Wildcats. If you've been to even one NMU hockey game or one match of intramural broom ball, you know we are already fiercely competitive. NMU has prepared us for the pressure of the job hunt, providing resume¢ assistance, interview practice, job fairs, and access to employment networks. Now, we must utilize that preparation as we step outside of the safety and support of the learning community on this campus, persevering until we meet success.

We have arrived in a world that demands our transparency. As we pursue the opportunities in our future, we are sure to be faced with difficult choices – choices that will ask us to choose paths of integrity. As we've attended college, we have watched adults in the generations before at every level of corporate management, political office, celebrity status, and syndicated sports fail to maintain integrity and honesty in their professional positions. We must not repeat their mistakes, for the world will be watching us. We must remain cognizant of the fact it is not our words or accolades that will define who we are; rather it is our choices that will, in the end, determine how we are remembered in the eyes of not only society but of those closest and dearest to us.

We have arrived in a world that will make significant demands of our time, determination, and strength. Therefore, I think we must make some resolutions. Today. This day. As we graduate and move forward, we must resolve to out-hustle. We must resolve to out-innovate. We must resolve to rise to the challenge of competition. We must resolve to do the hard things, seeking integrity and justice wherever we go.

We are a generation of "doers." According to a 2007 article in TIME Magazine, for the first time in a long time the words and resolutions of the emerging generation are not just empty; they are words being put into action. We have been a part of this trend here at NMU. Habitat for Humanity, Relay for Life, Circle K, the Invisible Children, Make a Difference Day, blood drives, and canned food drives – NMU has provided multitudes of opportunities here on campus for us to put our words into action and make a positive difference. Now, as we depart, we must resolve to continue to turn words into action and, like Mahatma Ghandi, "be the change" we wish to see in the world. We have arrived, to a "real world" brimming with challenge and opportunity. May we never shy away from either and never lose sight of who we are and aspire to be. Thank you and best wishes to you all.

Members of the Board of Trustees, President Wong, faculty, staff, families, guests, and my fellow graduates... I ask you, what can any commencement speaker say, that hasn’t already been said? 

    By now, students have heard every cliché bit of advice and platitude out there.  We already know that we need to work hard, never give up, and be kind to others.  We know that even Dr. Seuss thinks we’ll succeed (98 and ¾ percent guaranteed).  So, I won’t bother with advice or tired expressions... I’ll offer only a simple observation and reminder of who we are, right now, on our graduation day.

    Together we have shouldered backpacks, studied notes, and passed exams.  We’ve endured empty bank accounts, crazy roommates, and all nighters.  And we did this all to have our name read in today’s ceremony while wearing these funny caps and gowns.  So, here we are... we did it.  Of course, as graduates, most of us will search for an elusive job; but for many of us, that just won’t be enough.  Why is this?  Well, I think it’s because of who we are.

    My fellow graduates... we are young or young at heart, and idealistic.  What people say about college graduates is right.  However, it’s important to point out that unlike many of them; I say this with complete pride.  We look out to a world of violence, sickness, and greed.  We see sorrow and suffering.  And it’s when we see these things that we believe something quite beautiful-- we believe that we might be able to fix them.  We have yet to compromise with the realities that await us.  We have yet, to accept defeat.  May it forever be so...

     After all, it was a young and idealistic college graduate named Albert Einstein, who at age 26 published four papers that have forever changed the world.  At that same age, Jay Forrester created the first computer which arguably has become the most important invention of our time.  At 26, Martin Luther King Jr. led the Montgomery Bus Boycott.  These are only a few examples, but the list of young and idealistic people who changed the world is long... and it’s getting longer.

     As we move on from college, we must persevere.  The challenge is to put our ideals into practice and resolve differences between what is and what should be.  Obviously, this will not be an easy task.  There are many ways our resolve will be tested.  In fact, it’s likely our first test will arrive in the form of opportunity.

    We will have a choice between ideals and dollar signs.  We will make a promise to ourselves that we will not give up our dreams for a paycheck.  We tell ourselves, it may not be the perfect job, but it will only be temporary and we’ll work there just long enough to pay off student loans... then the mortgage, and of course we’ll have to start saving for retirement, maybe even our children’s college education.  Insidiously, our life style of comforts and responsibilities may lock us into a path that was only meant to be temporary.   I’ve heard this predicament referred to as being locked into “the golden handcuffs.” 

    Many of us sitting here today will be caught — slowly and systematically. Unfortunately, by the time we realize it we may no longer be young, and we may no longer be idealistic.

    Here’s the good news: thankfully, it appears it is also possible to be older and idealistic.  I say this because I’ve seen people who are.  I have seen them lecturing in classes, working in hospitals, and running local businesses.  If you talk with them, some have taken the direct route, never straying from their path.  Others had to develop dexterity like Harry Houdini to slip out of the golden handcuffs that bound them.  Either way, they are still out there continuing their work to change the world. 

    So, it looks as if the only real danger is in losing our ideals.  If we can hold onto them, we keep our edge, our creativity, and our passion.  We won’t accept things for how they are and we’ll maintain a drive to develop new solutions and new ideas.  I honestly don’t know a surefire way to hold onto our ideals, I’m only a graduate like the rest of you.  But, I’m guessing we will all have to figure that out on our own.  I do think our education will help, however, because I believe Jean Piaget when he said, “The principle goal of education is to create men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done.”

    So now we set out on paths of which we cannot see the end.  We must take courageous steps into trials unknown.  Fellow graduates, now is our time to stand tall...  and we can, because we are educated, young, and idealistic.  Congratulations graduates!

But What Does it MEAN?
Dealing with post-graduate doubts
and revealing the true value of a degree

Jordan Graves
Dec. 11, 2010

Good morning, everyone!  With the five minutes given for me to speak, I would like to discuss the post-graduation process with each degree recipient on an individual basis. A task like this seems impossible, especially under such a time restriction, but with some unorthodox techniques and a little participation, we can certainly accomplish this goal.

For starters, I would like to ask the graduates to please stand. While standing, consider the moment you finally hold your degree in your hands, as well as your long-term future after that moment. Right now, if you can visualize where you will go and what you will do, and understand how you will get there in specific, accurate detail, then you may return to your seats.

If you are still standing at this point, it’s because you’re not sure about something.  Uncertainty has found its way somewhere into your plans for your future after graduation, whether those plans concern major or minor decisions. Please take your seats, and thank you.

This demonstration reveals a few things. First of all, it shows just how common post-graduation doubts really are.  If you were among those even slightly unsure and still standing, it’s important to understand that this type of situation occurs quite regularly and is far from abnormal.  In fact, I haven’t been standing this entire time just because I don’t have a chair…

Secondly, this test forces us into a dilemma. We all know what degrees we are receiving today and what they certify us to do, according to this university. So, with the typical perception of a degree as a “means to an end,” or a “key to unlocking our professional future,” what we know about our degrees would eliminate any ambiguity concerning where to go, what to do, and how to get there, and consequently, we would have all sat down together. Unfortunately, this is not the case. We are all receiving these degrees today, and we know what they entail on paper, but many of us still have questions that need answering. Therefore, there must be another meaning behind these diplomas, something more substantial and valuable than their use in career applications.

In order to uncover this true meaning behind our degrees, I would like to ask one more favor from the graduates--I need you to think. I want you to go back days, weeks, months, and maybe even years. I want you to remember the worst academic day you’ve ever had at NMU. Visualize that day in your mind and summon up everything that happened.

It was the day you woke up late and failed five different tests, all before lunch!  It was that same day you hoped to turn your misfortune around with some good food from a place with variety and atmosphere. Naturally, you found yourself at the Wildcat Den, but would find no salvation this day.  The Den was serving sloppy joes, and you despise sloppy joes. Feeling yourself slide further into a downward spiral, you struggled in class throughout the afternoon, hardly retaining a word of your professors’ lectures. At the end of your evening lab course at nine o’clock that night, you dragged yourself home, dropped your overfull backpack at the door, and crawled into bed. Do you remember what it felt like at the end of that day? Can you remember that hopeless feeling of anguish and sorrow?  “I can’t stay here. It’s too hard.  I’m not ready, and I’ll never be.” Do you remember all the things you told yourself that night? Can you still feel that overwhelming pressure of failure, of letting down your family and yourself?

Now take a look around.  Here we are, at our graduation. We made it through that terrible day with hard work, utilizing the skills we developed along the way. Obviously, we made it through that day and all our days with great success, considering we are now here together, wearing these stylish caps and gowns.

I’d like to wrap things up with a few last thoughts and pieces of advice. For those of us who know exactly what our post-graduate futures entail, I am proud of you. There is no greater feeling than the idea of following a well-planned road map, and moving from point to point without a care or worry in the world. For those of us who still have questions, do not be afraid or discouraged. Go into the world with your head held high and your dreams even higher.  Imagine the feeling of finally realizing the answers to your questions, and be motivated by the fact that they are out there, ready for you to find.

For everyone, I want to finally explain the real meaning of the college degree. Based on what we now know, a degree is representative of the character, determination, responsibility, and maybe even a little maturity in all of us. And so, with that in mind, my final point is this: whether they are intended to help us with our dream job or graduate school or some other destination in life, college degrees are by no means a guide for what we are supposed to do; rather, they are representations of the good qualities we have all gained here at Northern and will retain every day hereafter, and that simple fact is something we should all be proud of as individuals and as a graduating class.

Congratulations graduates, thank you, and go Cats!

Watch Brenton's Commencement Speech here.

I would like to begin by thanking the Selection Committee for giving me the opportunity to speak before all my fellow graduates, our family members, and all of the other individuals that are here to support us and celebrate our achievements.

Today has finally arrived; our day. The day, for which we have spent countless hours studying, typing, planning. It seemed so far in the future on that first day of our freshman year. Looking into our Undergraduate Bulletins (which were still paper copies back then), the number of requirements to graduate seemed endless. It seemed that there were enough credits and classes to last twenty years, especially if you switched majors. Yet, here we are today, ready to go out and show the world what Wildcats can do.

 I encourage each of you to take some time today, amongst all the hugs and photo opportunities, to reflect on what you've achieved while attending NMU. Some may have been part of superb musical performances. Others may have performed beyond expectation on a sports team. While some of you are credited with winning Homecoming competitions, others may have won competitions for business ideas. For some, their greatest achievement will be their positions as leaders of student organizations; while other's greatest achievement may simply be passing that one really difficult class.

As Wildcats, we have been given countless opportunities; opportunities we may never have again. Our student activity fee allowed us to listen to the messages of comedians, politicians, motivational speakers, celebrities, and more. To fill liberal studies requirements, many of us took classes in subjects we knew nothing about, such as music, theatre, art, or foreign language. You may have learned to dance the tango, or how to put out forest fires. Many of us had the opportunity to gain hands on experience in our areas of study. Students worked on research projects with faculty members, logged observation hours in local school districts, trained in medical facilities, or left the country as part of a study abroad program.

While we achieved great things because of the opportunities offered here at NMU, it was not without risk. Some of us had to overcome the fear of public speaking, baring it all in front of an audience. Some encountered risk of injury, such as in sporting events, working with dangerous materials, or under dangerous conditions during internships. We often made decisions that brought risks with them, such as enrolling in difficult classes, whether or not to party on weekends, or meeting new people. We risked losing our childhood by moving away from home, and risked our futures by which majors we chose. No matter how great the risk, we made the most of our time at NMU.

Many people regard their college years as the best years of their lives. It is a time of transition between adolescence and adulthood. Our achievements at NMU are only the first steps towards our new destinations: graduate school, careers, politics, hometowns. As graduates, I know our experiences have better prepared us for the future. We now have the strength and the skills to take on whatever challenges life sends our way.

I wish all my fellow graduates the best of luck in all your endeavors, and I hope you all will continue to take risks in order to accomplish great things. Thank you

I would like to welcome Members of the Board of Trustees, President Wong, faculty, staff, families, guests, and my fellow graduates to this pivotal moment in our lives. Thank-you to everyone who has helped us get here. Without your love, support, and encouragement, some of us would have been lost. I certainly know I would have been.  I am honored to be standing in front of all of you on this momentous occasion. I remember Welcome Weekend my freshman year, scared to death that I wasn't going to be able to make it. Seeing everyone build those ridiculous lofts in the Spalding/Gant courtyard and watching everyone struggle to move 9 months of stuff into a 12 by 12 box.  I couldn't believe I had made it to college. I was terrified.

For months, I regretted my decision to come to NMU. Like many college freshman, it was my first time away from home, and I was having difficulty fitting in.  But, my parents told me "Danielle, just give it until the end of the year and if you are still unhappy you can come home." Everyone has that one group of people or that one organization that makes NMU comfortable.  Luckily, I found two organizations that made NMU feel more like home. Phi Sigma Sigma and the Student Leader Fellowship Program changed everything. I am thankful that my parents made me stick it out because I would have missed out on the wonderful experiences NMU has provided me. From academics, to studying abroad, to student organizations, NMU has molded me into the person I have always wanted to become and NMU has molded all of us into the people that we have the potential to be.

Through our lifetime, the importance of a college education has changed drastically. A high school diploma only gets you so far and now even a higher education degree has limitations it didn't use to have. In this economic turmoil, our education will prove to be our guiding light to the other side. The long hours we have spent in Harden Hall cramming for that exam that we should have started studying for a week ago, the all-nighters we pulled to finish that paper that we put off, and those times we took the professor's challenge to go beyond the assignment and make our brains really work, will all pay off. Because we have succeeded, despite all of the obstacles, we stuck to our guns, and learned, and made ourselves better. Despite the sacrifices, we made it.

Although academics might have been the reason we came to NMU, it wasn't the only reason we stayed. We have made friendships that will last a lifetime. The ones who will help shovel your car out when the plows annoyingly push the snow right behind your vehicle. The ones who hold your hand as you jump off of Black Rocks into the ice cold Lake Superior water. The ones who go out with you in the middle of the week just because you need to let loose. These are the people who have made our college experience not just about academics but what we'll remember for a lifetime.

Getting to where we are now has taken a lot, to say the least. Our professors pushed us to our limits because they knew we could be better and do better.  Each of us has had that special professor that made our college experience different. The one who helped you with more than just a few corrections on a paper or an extra credit assignment. The ones who became our friends and mentors. You know who that person is. We are here because they put in the effort to push us and not let us just skim by. And because of their effort, we succeeded.

I can't help but think today of all we are leaving behind. For the past four, five, six, and maybe seven years, our lives have been full of an assortment of activities. From Welcome Weekend and Fall Fest the first week of school to Homecoming, Make a Difference Day, Greek Week, concerts, comedians, movies, athletic events, and then finally Winterfest and spring break, we didn't have time to relax. We bounced from one thing to another to another. But now, we are leaving it all behind. So enjoy your last few days in beautiful Marquette, surrounded by the trees and wonderful Lake Superior. Because even though you say you will come back, there is always the chance that you may not.

Dr. Seuss once said, "You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You're on your own. And you know what you know. You are the guy who'll decide where to go." We have been preparing for this moment since we first walked through the lobby doors during Orientation Week. We have put in the time and the effort. We are ready. A new chapter in our lives is starting, so embrace the change, make yourself proud, and be who you are destined to be.

Welcome, members of the Board of Trustees, President Wong, faculty, staff, families, guests, and my fellow graduates.

Before we go any further or do anything else today, we, the graduates, need to take a moment to give special thanks to NMU’s faculty and administration, reminding them  that the work they do preparing us for this moment takes second place to nothing, nothing at all, and that theirs is a first order profession.

I want to share with you the greatness of this University.  To do so, I must explain.  I have spent 3.5 of my years here as a mail lady on NMU’s campus.  Of course, while sorting the campus mail, I learned over half of the faculty’s and students’ middle names, found out who was married to whom despite different last names, discovered which professors had pen pals in India, and even learned who sprays perfume on their letters before mailing them.  While delivering the mail, I saw students cry upon arrivals of care packages, professors grumble over late arrivals of packaged live frogs and mice, and secretaries smile at the arrival of bills.  Through this job, I learned the names of most faculty and staff and half the students, and can even put a name to a face to half of you out there.  Yet, most of you have no idea who I am.  Kind of creepy, hey?  I was like the mailbox at the end of your driveway – something you see every day but yet don’t really see.  It is under this cloak of invisibility as a mail lady that I had the greatest opportunity to really observe my surroundings and to learn what NMU is all about. Let say that I was overwhelmed by what I witnessed.  As I roamed the corridors, offices, and stomping grounds of NMU, I could feel the energy of this campus flowing everywhere.  Professors were lecturing and guiding students, secretaries were assisting people, students were supporting each other in all walks and aspects of life, and the administration was stopping to ask how they could better assist us students. Everywhere were people reaching out to us students, guiding us with fervor. 

These people have shown us passion.  Their passion for students and their individual areas of expertise moved even those of us who were Starbuck caffeine-ridden bodies, slouched behind multiple laptop screens, appearing to be in attendance -  if only physically -  on Fridays at 8am.  They reached into our souls and made us care, dream, and have faith. They taught us to be assertive and believe in ourselves.

You may think those are just nice platitudes to say on graduation day, but I know they are skills needed in the real world.  Let me give you an example. One summer I was working at a high-end fitness center in Plymouth, Minn., when my new found assertiveness came in handy. The center required all members to check in at the reception desk.  One day 7 really tall guys strolled in, strutted past my desk, and headed for the lockers.  I was so intimidated by their size and built, that I hesitated and questioned if I should stop them.  But it was my job to make people pay the guest fee if they didn’t have a membership to the gym.  I felt a gust of braveness and hollered to them to stop!  They came to my desk, towering over me.  They said, “Don’t you know who we are?” “No,” I responded, then added, “Do you know who I am?”  “No,” they said likewise.  They proceeded to rattle off their names as if that information would mean something to me…blah, blah, blah.  I told them, “Well, that’s nice to know. I’m Jodi Lampi.” Shock, or something like it, passed through their faces.  I began to question my ability to handle these guys, as my neck was starting to crimp from looking straight up.  Then I remembered my NMU professors always telling me to be assertive and have confidence in myself.  “You really don’t know who we are?” they asked again.  “Are you really sure you don’t know who I am?” I responded.  They exchanged confused looks, but finally one of them informed me they were members of the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves!  It turns out all my other co-workers were so star-struck they allowed these players to enter for free.  Believe you me, they paid!  I was proud that I held my ground.  So, NMU, thanks for the lessons on being assertive!

The faculty, staff and administration also taught us how to reach for our desires.  We fell sometimes, not because we were fearful but because we’ve learned that you need to stretch beyond comfort and even sometimes come up short when striving for a goal.  When we’ve fallen here, the faculty and staff have provided us support, guidance, and – when needed --  a kick in the pants. There is no way we students can repay you for what you have done for us, but here’s my humble attempt: Thank you!

What we’ve learned here on NMU’s campus are great lessons in support and community. NMU’s faculty, staff and administration have set the example of how to take care of one another, pick each other up during times of need, and encourage each other to excel and dream.  Because of our experiences here, we’ve grown --  spiritually, mentally, physically, and intellectually.  But with growth, comes challenges.  We have all had some obstacles, whether they were in the classroom, at work, on the playing field, in the studio, on stage, in the lab, or abroad, and  we’ve had them within friendships, our families, and ourselves.  Part of our growth has been learning to deal with challenges and, with the example and assistance of the faculty, staff and administration, and fellow graduates, I think we’ve been masterful at doing so. We are here at this celebration because we now have our own insight on giving and receiving support, as well as understanding on what truly makes a community. 

Let’s continue to remember our lessons about support and community as we pursue our next set of goals – and challenges – in life beyond Northern.  Regardless of whether your top goal is to be President, a doctor, or a parent, become the next Albert Einstein, or even be the best teacher a child could ever dream of, I think we can agree that the main purpose of our time at NMU all comes down to the pursuit of truth and happiness….to discover meaning for our lives.   And, we’ve watched some masters at this during our time here – NMU faculty, staff and administrators who really love what they do, excel at their jobs and strive to be even better professionals and community members. 

What’s next?  How do we shape our individual stories into ones of meaningful lives?  I think we have to realize that experiences ahead not only depend on what you make of it, but on how others react toward your actions.  In other words, connections impact the path we are about to take … and there we go again with those ideas of support and community.  As NMU has taught us, we must work together to build caring communities, to strive to make a difference in the quality of each day. By doing so, we share with others one of the most beautiful things that life has to offer, demonstrating and living passion in our everyday lives.  We can continue the same passion and joy we feel today by spreading it to others. 

Of course there will be sorrows, difficulties, history we cannot control or change, but let’s be the providers of hope. I encourage you, graduates, to act – as I once heard a man say – as a rebellious band of Johnny Appleseeds, spreading and planting seeds of hope, support, care, and positive change with each step you take.   We know now how to do this.  We’ve been watching, learning and experimenting, and we’re ready.

But before we set off, Graduates, I ask you to join me as we raise the roof in celebration.  Congratulations and good luck.  Thank you!