Graduation remarks to Mercile J. Lee Scholars

April 19, 2021

Congratulations, UW-Madison Class of 2021!

I’m Chancellor Rebecca Blank and I am delighted to have this opportunity to congratulate you on all that you’ve accomplished over the past four years.

To the friends and family … teachers and staff … mentor-friends … fellow students and alumni who are celebrating with our graduates:

This is your night, too.

Thank you for all that you have done to support these amazingly talented students across the finish line!

We have more than 120 Chancellor’s and Powers-Knapp Scholars graduating next month … that’s pretty impressive when you consider this program began with just 6 students.  They were nicknamed the Fantastic Six – for good reason.  They set high standards.

Every student who comes to UW is in the process of growing and learning and figuring out a direction for their life.  But not everyone faces the same challenges.  For some of you, it was harder to get here and you might have faced more differences in expectations and culture than many other students.

This year has been particularly hard:

  • Some of you have lost loved ones
  • You’ve worried about your health, and your family
  • You’ve worried about money
  • You’ve worried about finding internships and jobs
  • And you’ve been isolated from the people who have supported you and made this place feel like home.


But you never gave up.  You have met every challenge with resilience and strength, and support for one another – and you have kept longtime traditions alive, even when it meant another long Zoom meeting at the end of a very long day.

One of those traditions is the senior class ‘Give Back’– our seniors raise money for the next class of Scholars.  This year, in the midst of a global pandemic, it seemed like we might break with that tradition.

But the Class of 2021 wasn’t going to be stopped.  I want to thank you – your gift is going to help support future Scholars in the program.

In your time on this campus, we have raised record donations among our alumni for Chancellor’s and PKS Scholars within the Mercile J. Lee Scholars Program – and we’ve just kicked off a new alumni fundraising campaign that we are really excited about.  The Raimey-Noland Fund is named for Mabel Raimey and William Noland, the first known African American female and male graduates of UW-Madison.

The campaign will support scholarships and programs aimed at increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion on this campus.

We have already raised $20M and we’re going keep aiming higher, because these Scholars have long been among our best and brightest students:

  • They are academically strong
  • They are deeply engaged in campus life
  • Their graduation rates typically exceed those of our general student population
  • And more than half of them will pursue graduate or professional degrees.

Members of this year’s class have been accepted into top medical schools, law schools, engineering and other graduate programs all over the country – including the University of Michigan, the University of Rochester, Cornell University, and of course UW-Madison.  

Graduates, you are well-prepared for whatever you decide to do next.  But I know that these last four years haven’t been easy – academically, socially, or emotionally.

Many of you have been part of a conversation about campus climate that has been painful and difficult – particularly this year:

  • We’ve seen the pandemic exposing deep inequities as it has ravaged communities of color.


  • We have literally watched people commit murders and read about hate crimes across over the country and the world.


  • And we’ve seen the daily acts of racism and microaggessions that all people of color in this country experience.


Our work to address inequity and injustice, and to root out systemic racism feels more urgent than ever.

I want to thank those of you who have been deeply involved in helping us to make this campus … our state … and our country a place where no one has to live in fear because of the color of their skin, their ethnicity, religious beliefs, or gender identity.

I hope all of you are looking forward to your next chapter:


  • Many of you are beginning graduate and professional programs.


  • Some of you are beginning careers with corporations like Dell Technologies, Microsoft, and Pfizer.


  • And some of you are pursuing public service through Teach for America … international exchange programs … and the armed forces.


You have accomplished much and made us proud.  And soon you will have a diploma that is your personal ticket to change the world.  I have no doubt you will succeed.

As you move on to your next challenge, I want you to know that our alumni will be there to support you.

I hope that each of you will stay connected to the program.  We want to hear how you’re doing, and celebrate your future achievements with you.

And every once in a while, I hope you will take a moment to read those words on the back of your medallion and remember: “Once a Scholar, Always a Scholar.”  Congratulations and On, Wisconsin!