1,173 points of pride: Chancellor Frank congratulates graduates on their ‘well-earned achievement’

Three ceremonies highlight success stories from class of 2023 along with words of wisdom from three graduates, alum
​Jerry Poling | May 8, 2023

Three commencement ceremonies on May 6 at UW-Stout celebrated the progress, perseverance and success of 1,173 graduates.

Chancellor Katherine Frank addressed graduates and their guests while three members of the class of 2023 and an alum also spoke at Johnson Fieldhouse.

“Graduates, thank you for all that you have contributed to UW-Stout and the larger community through the commitment, honesty and hard work reflected across all areas of your university experience,” Frank said.

Ceremonies were held at 9:30 a.m. for the College of Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Management; 1:30 p.m. for the College of Arts and Human Sciences; and 5 p.m. for the Graduate School.

Graduates applaud during one of the three commencement ceremonies May 6 at UW-Stout.
Graduates applaud during one of the three commencement ceremonies May 6 at UW-Stout. / UW-Stout

In each of her speeches, Frank cited examples of inspiring graduates.

From the College of Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Management, she highlighted Matthew Ryan, of Oconomowoc, a computer and electrical engineering student and Scholar Athlete in track and cross country who has accepted a job as a software engineer at United Launch Alliance, an aerospace company in Colorado; Jordan Kunze, of Merrill, who graduated in applied science and is entering a chemistry Ph.D. program at the University of Minnesota; Ben Olkowski, of Kimberly, a construction major who will begin his career at AZCO, a heavy industrial contractor; and Anna Kent, of Eau Claire, a packaging major and  Scholar Athlete who will work for Boston Scientific.

Ryan reflected on the support he received. “Most everyone I have met in classes or in athletics has been willing to offer help when needed. We all want each other to succeed, and those symbiotic relationships help … whether it is in school or life,” said Ryan, who also completed three minors: mathematics, computer science and physics.

Olkowski and Kent said UW-Stout changed their lives. “I have learned more than I ever anticipated I could, and I gained some incredible experiences through that learning. On top of that, I have made some great connections with wonderful people that I will carry with me for the rest of my life,” Olkowski said.

A graduate receives her hood from officials as part of the Graduate School ceremony.
A graduate receives her hood from officials as part of the Graduate School ceremony. / UW-Stout

From the College of Arts and Human Sciences, Frank highlighted Grace Minder, of St. Paul, an applied social science major who has accepted a position at People Inc., a mental health nonprofit in the Twin Cities; Lauren Couves, of Ames, Iowa, a dietetics major and Scholar Athlete who will pursue her master’s at UW-Stout; Nick Kostka, of Tomah, a special education major who was in the National Guard, will finish military training and then pursue a master’s degree; and Kacey King, of Amery, a human development and family studies major who will pursue a master’s at UW-Stout in marriage and family therapy.

“I have learned the importance of surrounding myself with supportive people and challenging what I think I know,” said Couves, also a tennis player and like many of the other graduates was involved in student organizations. “(At Stout) I gave myself permission to fail, ask questions, and reflect on where I could improve.” 

“I’ve felt at home here at Stout, which has been so deeply meaningful,” King said. “I’ve grown to be more confident in myself both personally and professionally. I think about who I was when I first came here, and I feel like a completely different person now — for the better. The faculty, staff and friends I have at Stout believe in me and care about me as a person. Without the supportive environment I’ve had here, I know I wouldn’t be who I am today.”

A graduate celebrates with his supporters.
A graduate celebrates with his supporters. / UW-Stout

From the Graduate School, Frank noted master’s graduates Abbie Sonstegard, of Oakdale, Minn., in clinical mental health counseling, who accepted a therapist position in Bloomington, Minn.; Megan McIlheran, of DePere, in school counseling who will work at Mead Elementary in Wisconsin Rapids; Jackson Yang, of Wausau, in the Master of Fine Arts in design program, who plans to illustrate children’s books and work in the Hmong community; and Pablo Sotomayor, of Loja, Ecuador, in food science who has a food scientist position with Downs Food Group of Mankato, Minn.

I now have the opportunity to take what I have learned and teach the next generation of children,” McIlheran said. “I am proud looking back at my growth mindset and grit when faced with challenges throughout college and working through the uncomfortable. It is easy to give up when a situation is intimidating or uncomfortable, but that is usually when you grow the most. UW-Stout gave me the opportunity to grow in ways I didn't imagine I could.” 

Frank congratulated graduates on a job well done. “Congratulations on your well-earned achievement. You make us extremely Stout Proud!”

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Alum and student speakers

Alum Lakayana Drury, a 2014 graduate in applied social science, spoke at the undergraduate ceremonies. After struggling in school because of a learning disability while growing up in Madison, he came to UW-Stout with little self-confidence.

“My deepest fear was that I was a failure. The only thing I was familiar with was failure and rejection,” said Drury, who lives in Portland, Oregon.

Drury came away a different person, one who has gone on to teach in China and Portland and start a nonprofit, Word is Bond, to help empower young Black men.

“At UW-Stout, I found for the first time in my life educators actually believed I was capable. Beyond the fantastic professors I had, the students became my first true friends I ever had in school. I found, despite a predominantly white campus, a community of peers, Black, brown, and white, who made me feel at home. And on campus, I found a way to reinvent myself,” Drury said.

“You are full of infinite possibilities. You can rewrite your story any time you choose. That's what I took away from UW-Stout,” he said. “There’s a difference between the story they tell you about yourself and the story that you write about yourself. Don’t ever let anyone define your own truth. Your story is the greatest thing you will own.”

In the CSTEMM ceremony, Anna Brooks, of Menomonie, majoring in applied science, said that when she heard Russia had bombed her hometown in Ukraine she “grew 10 years older.” Her new community at UW-Stout immediately rallied around her, along with family, to give her strength and help her finish her degree. “Suddenly, I realized that I was a part of something bigger and stronger than myself. Our strength is in our people. We come together (today) to celebrate the triumph of knowledge and support for each other.”

In the CAHS ceremony, Andrew Nosal, of Eden Prairie, Minn., majoring in video production, said he knew no one when he came to campus. “Coming to Stout, I was a nobody. But because of everyone here, I became somebody. I look out at the crowd. I see my friends. I see my professors. I see my family. And in my mind, you are all up here with me. Because without you, I am nothing. So today, on this most celebratory day, make it a point to appreciate those around you. Appreciate those who got you here today. Recognize their full worth and say, ‘Thank you.’”

In the Graduate School ceremony, Shaun Zahradka, of Rapids City, Ill., in the operations and supply management graduate program, encouraged his fellow graduates to “remain committed to continued learning, remain curious, open-minded, and receptive to new ideas and perspectives. Remembering to be compassionate and empathetic towards others, recognizing that everyone has their own unique experiences and challenges. By working together with kindness and understanding, we can create a better future for all.”

Provost Glendali Rodriguez presided over the ceremonies, which included music by the UW-Stout Symphonic Band and the Jazz Orchestra, directed by Aaron Durst; and the Chamber Choir, Symphonic Singers and Devil Tones Acapella, directed by Jerry Hui.

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