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UW-Rock County graduates rock the gymnasium

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Neil Johnson
May 21, 2014

JANESVILLE—Move the UW-Rock County graduation ceremony from its usual location to the gym downstairs and you get a different vibe.

Wednesday, for the first time in years, the college decided to host commencement in the Frank Holt Gymnasium on the lower floor of Wells Cultural Center instead of in the theater upstairs.

The idea: A bigger space would help more families attend.

Gone were the stage lights, but there was more room for the cheering section.

UW-Rock officials say the theater only allows enough tickets for 250 family members. The gym, on the other hand, allows up to 350.

“A lot of students are moms dads, spouses. They've been wanting more tickets so their loved ones can see them graduate. The gym was the answer to that,” said Carrie Hermanson, the college's director of marketing and communications.

To help students navigate the change, officials drew a flow chart in the band room where graduates dress before the ceremony. It showed the path students would take into the gym, to their seats, and across the gym to the stage.

“It's going to be interesting,” Senior Student Affairs Coordinator Karen Greenler told the graduates.  

Greek bling: Honors graduate Tony Palumbo was the Mr. T of UW-Rock students. He had no fewer than eight honor cords slung over the shoulders of his black graduation gown. Three tassels hung from his cap.

Palumbo wore cords of red for the college's honor society; royal blue and gold cords for national honor society; baby blue and gold ones for a national two-year math honor society, and green and gold cords for a national English society.

He also wore a gold honor society medal on a chain. Palumbo paid more than $80 for all the bling.

Palumbo, a military veteran, is used to such regalia. He said he wore the colored cords for the benefit of his two children, Alyssa, 8, and Joseph, 3.

“This isn't that big a deal for me, but for my kids, it's a lesson. I want to show them how important it is to graduate,” he said.

Palumbo plans to continue school at UW-Madison to earn a mechanical engineering degree.

Be a giant child: Ryan Rittenhouse, who graduated with honors and a grade-point average above 3.5, wasn't always on track. He was selected keynote student speaker for graduation.

Rittenhouse remembers being in and out of detention in high school. He remembers getting his report card in the mail almost 20 years ago and learning that he'd failed his senior year in high school. 

Rittenhouse, who grew up blocks from UW-Rock, also remembered that as a young boy he wandered through the college's doors. He was curious to see the students who he thought of as “giants.”

That curiosity came back 19 years later. At age 37, Rittenhouse began attending UW-Rock to earn his associate of arts and science degree.

In his speech, he remembered his fascination with swinging open those college doors and first seeing the giants.

He urged graduates not to focus only on what kind of jobs their degrees could earn them. Instead, he told them to unleash their inner children of curiosity and wonder. 

“Curiosity reveals your passions,” he said.

Keep it brief, keep rocking: Keynote speaker and UW-La Crosse Chancellor Joe Gow told students he knew he'd need to keep his speech short.

The temperature outside was in the high 80s on Wednesday. Fans had been used all day to direct cool air into the gym, which staff members said doesn't have air conditioning.

Gow, who plays guitar on the side, kept his speech to just seven minutes. That was about the length of both sides of a Beatles single, and shorter than Led Zeppelin's “Stairway to Heaven.”

He quoted the short-and-sweet philosophy of Winston Churchill: “Never Give Up.” He also offered a quote from Apple's Steve Jobs: “Life is too short. Don't waste yours trying to live somebody else's.” 

But Gow's own line, tailored to match his own love of rock music and the name of the college, offered a big, brief thought. 

“U Rock. If you can't, nobody can,” he said. “Rock on.”



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