Spring 2018 Commencement Speech

As prepared for delivery, May 12, Camp Randall Stadium:

Good afternoon. Please be seated. Welcome to Camp Randall Stadium and the 165th spring commencement of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Thank you, Katie Anderson, for that beautiful performance and thanks to Professor Leckrone and the UW Band for leading us in.

Today, more than 7,000 bachelor’s, master’s, and law degree candidates will become alumni of one of the greatest universities in the world – making the Class of 2018 one of the largest in our history! And by the way, 6,520 of you are right here in the stadium.

I want you to know we did place an order for beautiful weather – the Director of the National Weather Service is a three-time UW alum so we like to think we have some influence – but we’re just thankful we’re not having a blizzard.

Despite the rain, friends and family have the best seats in the house – where fans have been cheering on the Badgers for 101 years (just for the record, that first game in Camp Randall was a shutout: we trounced Minnesota.)

To all of you who have supported our graduates on this amazing journey: Thank you!

Class Highlights

Class of 2018: What an experience it’s been!

This class has set new records for community service … and helped make UW-Madison the #1 public university in the nation for students studying abroad.

You’ve also helped us consume 400,000 gallons of Babcock ice cream … battled for Bascom in an epic snowball fight … and inspired an explosion of UW memes powered by one of today’s graduates. Shane Linden – wherever you are out there – I trust that the Milk-Chugging Teens will continue to drive our ‘meme’ economy.

You have worked harder than you thought you could. One member of the Class of 2018 has even set what might be a new record for number of majors. Daniel Quigley liked Anthropology, Astronomy, Linguistics, Mathematics, and Physics so much he just couldn’t choose. So he majored in all five.

Daniel is also the first generation in his family to earn a college degree.

Congratulations, Daniel!

This has been a particularly great time to be a Badger. That Final Four victory over Kentucky in your freshman year was pretty unforgettable. Not to mention the back-to-back trips to the Women’s Frozen Four and football bowl games.

You have helped teach the nation the meaning of Jump Around!

But I want to recognize that for some this is also a very bittersweet moment. There are members of this class who passed away before graduation. They were friends and colleagues and we pay tribute to their memory.

The Real World

One of today’s graduates spoke last month to a group of high-school students visiting campus. Ross Dahlke told them how odd it feels when people ask him what it’s like to be entering the “real world.”

He said: UW grads don’t need to enter the real world, because we never left it.

You have been educated in the proud tradition of the Wisconsin Idea – our commitment to public service. Which is why each of you has spent the last four years learning to address real-world problems.

Brianna Young came to UW as a Posse scholar to study nursing, but some of her most meaningful work has happened outside of the classroom, working to change public perceptions about the nursing profession and mentoring students interested in healthcare. Last year, Brianna became the first undergraduate ever selected for our Outstanding Women of Color Award. Congratulations, Brianna!

Kai Rasmussen had a life-changing experience when he started working in our astrobotany lab. He thought figuring out how to grow plants in outer space would be pretty challenging … but it turned out an even bigger challenge was trying to explain to his family and friends what, exactly, he was doing. So he launched a one-man campaign to explain astrobotany … designed T-shirts …  started a YouTube talk show … even wrote a hip-hop song and got it played at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Kai, if astrobotany doesn’t work out, I suggest a career in public relations.

For Kai and Brianna – and every one of you – the real world is right here.

My question to you is: How will you stay engaged with the world once you leave this place?

It actually gets a little bit harder to make time for ‘real world’ problems when you’re focused on graduate school or building your career and your life … but the world needs you.

So let me offer you three pieces of advice:

First, think small. You don’t have to end world hunger or save the planet (at least, not right away …). Find something close by that you care about, that you can help with in some way.

For Angeline Mboutngam, that’s been supporting and advocating for non-traditional students. Angeline is an immigrant from a small village in Cameroon where girls had little chance for an education. She learned English just a few years ago, and earned her degree while raising four children. Congratulations, Angeline!

Like Angeline, pick something to work on that you care about and are able to make time for in your life. It’s always satisfying to work on something a little bigger than yourself.

Second, unplug once in a while – you will be amazed how much time you suddenly have when you aren’t always on your phone … and I promise those Reddit memes will still be there when you return. You need time to think – time when you’re not always distracted by videos or text messages. This is precious time … make sure you find it in your life.

And third, whenever you have the chance, help somebody else learn something new.  You will find that teachers learn as much from their students as students learn from their teachers. And you don’t have to be an education major to be a teacher – you just have to care deeply about something.

When Andrew Hanson, Justin Beck, and Forrest Woolworth sat where you are sitting just a few years ago, their first thought was, “We care deeply about playing video games.”

And, like many of you, they had a fair amount of experience.

But they’d noticed there weren’t enough games they could play on their phones – and the ones they tried weren’t all that fun.

With degrees in computer engineering and computer science, they decided they could do better.

Today, they have a business here in Madison called Per Blue that designs video games.  They’ve made lots of headlines all over the country … they’ve been honored at the White House for their work to support entrepreneurs … and now they’re collaborating with Disney on a new role-playing game.

Andrew, Justin, and Forrest are successful business executives, entrepreneurs and computer scientists … but their favorite (and most important role) is teacher. They advise young entrepreneurs … mentor UW students … and guest-lecture on campus. They understand that a credential from a top university is more than a ticket to a great career or graduate school … it’s a passport to a new world of opportunities to share what you have learned – to move from student to teacher.


Fifty-three years ago, one of the greatest teachers in our history – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – spoke just down the road at the Stock Pavilion. He thanked our students and faculty for their work to register voters … and urged the audience to stay committed to making a difference.

As our nation marks the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s death, I want you to take a moment to contemplate what he called “Life’s most persistent and urgent question.”  That is: What are you doing for others?

If you keep asking that question, you will keep finding ways to use your knowledge and skills to make the real world a little better.

So we wish you all the best as you move into the next phase of your life. Keep in touch.  Let us know how you’re doing.

And remember to come back and visit. You will always be part of UW and I hope that UW will always be part of you. I can’t wait to hear what you accomplish in the years ahead.

Congratulations to the Class of 2018!