Fri Sept 3, 2021
Hello, new Badgers! I am Chancellor Rebecca Blank. I know you’ve already been welcomed a few times, and now it’s my turn.
On behalf of the faculty, staff and administration here at UW, I am delighted to welcome you to the 2021-2022 academic year at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.
You are now students at one of the top public universities in the world. Congratulations!
It’s wonderful to see all of you here, and I know we have many members of the faculty and staff here as well who are eager to meet you.
This is a pretty special class – there are about 8,400 of you, which makes this the largest freshman class in UW-Madison history. Graduation Day 2025 is going to pack Camp Randall Stadium!
We also have more than 1,000 transfer students joining us this fall, who will be graduating even sooner.
Those of you who are freshmen were selected from a record-breaking pool of applicants … more than 54,000 students applied for those 8,400 spots.
We picked you because you are highly qualified academically, but also because we believe that your talents and interests make you an excellent fit for this great university.
I’ve seen you all taking lots of photos – now it’s my turn.
[pull out phone and take photo of the students]
Your first official UW portrait … I’ll Tweet it from my account – if you want to see it, follow me @BeckyBlank.
I want to tell you a bit about the people sitting around you:
- Lots of you are from right here in WI. This class includes one of the highest numbers of WI residents in the last 20 years.
- You also come from 48 other U.S. states (missing ND) along with Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico (let’s hear from you if you’re from one of the top 5 states – Illinois? Minnesota? California? New York? New Jersey?) Welcome!
- Our international freshmen are from 47 nations outside of the U.S.
- And nearly 2 out of every 10 freshmen and 3 out of every 10 transfer students this fall are the first generation in their family to go to college. A special congratulations to all of them!
To study at one of the world’s premier research institutions is an experience like no other. In the next four years, you will learn from renowned scholars … participate in groundbreaking research … and make friends from all over the world.
This is an exciting place. But it can also feel a little overwhelming, particularly when you’re new. You heard Dr. Reesor talk about the importance of finding your community here, and Kyla told you how she did that.
Getting involved is not only good for your social life … it’s an important part of your education. If you leave UW with only classroom learning, we haven’t done our job. The Wisconsin Experience stretches well beyond the classroom! So think about study abroad, volunteering in the community through the Morgridge Center for Public Service, or joining a few student organizations.
We’re really excited to have you here in person, and I know you’re excited to be here. So here’s what needs to happen for all of us to stay here in person:
- Wear a face covering whenever you’re inside a campus buildings.
- Don’t come to class or work or do any campus activity if you’re feeling sick or you’ve tested positive.
- Don’t hang out indoors with groups of people who aren’t wearing masks.
- And if you’re not vaccinated, you need to take weekly COVID tests (or get vaccinated for free, right here on campus).
If you don’t follow these rules, you’ll be putting everyone around you at risk. And you’ll be putting yourself at risk of a non-academic misconduct charge, which carries serious consequences.
But here’s the good news: We have a highly effective vaccine … 90% of people on our campus are fully vaccinated … and our rules are pretty simple to follow.
Which is a way of saying get ready for game days at Camp Randall … popcorn on the Union Terrace … trivia competitions … intramural sports from basketball to pickleball … and the best Innertube Waterpolo Tournament you’ve ever seen!
Three Pieces of Advice
Let me exercise my privilege as chancellor to give you three pieces of advice.
First, your primary reason to be at UW is to learn…to be a student. So take your academic work seriously.
This is a challenging place. The classes are rigorous, and you’ll need to keep up with the readings and do the homework. Your parents may still try to nag you, but it’s just not the same when they aren’t here in person. So it’s up to you to get the work done.
You have heard this, but I going to repeat it: High-risk drinkers jeopardize their own heath and well-being and make our campus less welcoming and less safe for everyone. So take care of yourself and think about the kind of community you want to create.
My second piece of advice is, ask for help when you need it.
Like many of you, I am from right here in the upper Midwest – I grew up in Minnesota. I learned from my family that I should take care of my own problems and not bother other people with them. Does that sound familiar? That really wasn’t the best thing to learn. Just because you CAN do things on your own doesn’t mean you SHOULD.
The faculty, staff, and advisers are here to work with you and to help you. We admitted you because we know you can be successful here. So when you hit snags, let us help.
My third and final piece of advice comes from Tina Marshalek (marshall-ick), who graduated in May. She was a first-generation college student who’d been homeschooled through high school. She started at Madison College and then transferred to UW.
When she got here, it seemed like lots of other students were talking about backpacking through Europe while she’d been working to pay her bills. And it seemed like everyone felt really confident, while she felt pretty nervous a lot of the time – and she started to wonder whether this was the right place for her.
So she decided that she was going to push herself to try things that felt a little scary, like asking questions in class and getting involved in student government.
She said: I had to prove myself … to myself.
But she also knew she needed a way to relax, so she joined Knit for a Cause, where she could meet friends and do something she loved to do.
She studied hard, found a major that fit her interests and skills, volunteered in the community, and met lifelong friends here. And she went on to win one of the top academic awards in the U.S. (a Truman Scholarship), which she will use for graduate school.
There are lots of ways to reach a little beyond your comfort zone:
- Learn to sail on Lake Mendota.
- Try a class in something you know nothing about.
- Get to know students who grew up in a place far away from where you’ve lived.
If you’re like the rest of us, you’re probably a little more comfortable with people whose names and faces and language are like your own. And it’s a little too easy to hang out just with that group. But in 2021, one of the most important skills to learn for your future career is how to live and work effectively in a diverse and global community.
Dr. Reesor told you about some of the in-person activities we have planned and she mentioned ‘Our Wisconsin’, which is going to help you recognize and challenge the assumptions you probably don’t even realize you make about other people.
Go Big Read
One thing that will bring all of us together is reading and talking about this fall’s Go Big Read book, which is called Transcendent Kingdom. It’s a work of fiction by Yaa Gyasi (yah jahsy). You’ll receive a copy on your way out.
Go Big Read is basically the biggest book club you’ve ever seen. Thousands of people – on campus and around the community – will be reading this book. Your professors might incorporate it into discussions (last year 200 course sections use our Go Big Read book) and we’ll have a conversation with the author when she comes to campus in November.
Transcendent Kingdom is about a young woman named Gifty whose family immigrated to the U.S. from Ghana. She’s a graduate student at Stanford University – a black woman scientist struggling to find that spot in the universe where she fits.
The book explores race and immigration … family and faith … mental illness, love, and how we figure out where we belong.
No matter where you come from or what your life experiences have been, you will find something in this book that you can relate to.
You have come to a university with a long and proud commitment to changing the world by actively engaging on issues that affect people’s lives.
Each of you has a different background, but you now share a common identity as Badgers. That’s an identity you can claim for the rest of your life: you are students – and one day will be alumni – of one of the greatest universities in the world.
We want to celebrate our new Badgers with two time-honored UW traditions – singing Varsity and eating Babcock Ice Cream.
Of course, we can’t do both at once.
We’ll sing here, and eat ice cream at Alumni Park, next to Memorial Union, courtesy of the Wisconsin Alumni Association.
Congratulations on being here at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and my very best wishes for your time here as a student.
Now please join me in welcoming one very special Badger… we can’t do this without him! (Bucky enters)
After we sing, please remain standing for the faculty recession.
Please rise as you are able and the UW Marching Band will lead us in Varsity.