UW-Whitewater graduates hear about service, truth before setting out to 'save the world'

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Jonah Beleckis
Sunday, May 14, 2017

WHITEWATER—Graduation season kicked off Saturday with more than 1,550 students graduating from UW-Whitewater under bright, sunny skies.

The university switched to two graduation ceremonies this year instead of one.

In the morning ceremony, 672 undergraduate students and 120 graduate students from the College of Arts and Communication and the College of Business and Economics sat together in black folding chairs during the two-hour commencement in Kachel Fieldhouse.

The afternoon ceremony had 662 undergraduate students and 104 graduate students from the College of Education and Professional Studies and the College of Letters and Sciences.

Here are a few scenes from the morning ceremony.


Proudly wearing a Warhawk purple tie and dress shirt, Frank Bunker walked into the Kachel Fieldhouse with two of his five children. His second oldest, Connor, was graduating and hurried ahead to get inside.

Although Frank doesn't like to dress up anymore, he said Saturday was a proud and exciting moment.

“I'm proud to have two college graduates,” he said.

Bunker, who lives in the Milwaukee suburb of Greendale, has 35 years of experience as a purchasing agent. He said his fingers were crossed as Connor, who studied business finance, continues his job search.

After the ceremony, the Bunker family would be taking pictures and getting a meal at the 841 Brewhouse.

Frank was also able to pull a Gazette reporter away from a car backing up in their direction.


Each graduate was given seven tickets to the graduation for friends and family.

“You got the tickets?” one person asked a companion before going inside. With 1,558 graduates, how many experienced the Saturday-morning panic of forgotten tickets?

As 9:45 a.m. approached, families scurried to get to the field house and find their seats. After that time, latecomers were allowed in only after the graduates had walked in.

“Come on, Grandma,” one attendee urged an older woman walking a few yards behind her.


For the first time in quite a while, UW-Whitewater allowed spring graduates to decorate their mortarboards.

One woman's cap read “GOAL DIGGER” in gold letters.

“The gang graduates from Whitewater,” read another.


James Langnes III appeared in Saturday's program three times: as a speaker, a member of the UW System Board of Regents and a graduate.

He is used to balancing responsibilities. Along with his term as a regent—he was appointed by Gov. Scott Walker two years ago—Langnes also sits on the Whitewater City Council.

The Lake Geneva native said his experience as a regent “depended my affection for the state of Wisconsin.”

Langnes' speech emphasized the importance of service and giving back. He hopes to continue his public service wherever it takes him.

The other morning student speaker, Tyler McNamer, also believes in public service. He reads books to those who are visually impaired. He also is one of the university's Warhawk Ambassadors and is a social media manager for PrideFest, an LGBT festival in Milwaukee.

During his speech, McNamer cited the hours of service UW-Whitewater students logged in the 2015-16 school year: 32,773 hours.

The Elkhart Lake native said personal issues almost caused him to drop out of college.

“MY school work began to be affected, and I was no longer living up to my full potential. Not only did I feel like I let everybody who needed me down, but I also feel like I let myself down,” McNamer said.

“As Warhawks, we don't quit when things are looking rough. We don't throw out our chances at greatness, and we most certainly don't ever give up.

“I have never been more proud of an accomplishment in my life than to say I graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater,” he said.


Main speaker Charles R. Pruitt, a UW System regent from 2003 to 2016, spoke at length about the "Wisconsin Idea" and the importance of truth.

He said the Wisconsin Idea emerges from “the single most important and powerful mission statement of any university in the world,” which is to solve problems and improve life for everyone in Wisconsin.

Truth is under assault, Pruitt said. He implored graduates to go out and fight for truth.

“This Wisconsin Idea says your search for truth began on this campus but does not stop here,” he said.


Sarell Martin's supporters cheered loudly as he walked across the stage.

One of them walked to the front of the field house to get a picture of Martin posing with his new diploma.

“Excellent,” he said when asked what the moment felt like.

Martin passed Ian McKee, who sat in the front row at a corner that each graduate had to pass after receiving his or her diploma.

McKee said he was excited for his friends to do their own thing, and he hugged and shook hands with many who passed him.

After his own name was called and he returned to his seat, McKee thought about what his father had told him: “This is something no one can take away from you.”

So what will be the next new thing for a student interested in sustainability?

“Save the world,” he said.

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