Notes as prepared for delivery: 4:00 p.m., Saturday May 8, 2021
UW-Madison Spring Kick-Off Ceremony for Doctoral, Master of Fine Arts and Professional Degree Applicants
Camp Randall Stadium
Good afternoon. Welcome to Camp Randall Stadium and the start of graduate studies in 2021 at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
After one of the strangest years we’ve ever had, many of you are here – together and in person – to celebrate. And it feels good !
Thank you, DaSean Stokes and Sarah Brailey, for a great performance.
Thank you, Provost Karl Scholz, for this kind introduction.
And thanks to John Gottman, who is receiving an honorary degree today. Dr Gottman couldn’t be here in person, but you’ll hear from him shortly and I think you’ll be inspired – as I have been – by his unique ability to see a problem in a way that no one else can. has never considered before. He is world famous for his research on marriage. Mathematicians in attendance will appreciate that he is particularly well known as one of the first people to use differential equations to model and describe interactions between couples.
I also want to take a moment to mark the departure of Barry Alvarez, our athletic director, who is retiring after 31 years here at UW. Under his leadership, our Badger teams have won several national championships … our student-athletes have been recognized for their best academic performance … and our football program has been named the most admired in the country, not only because we win, but also because of our students’ academic success and community involvement!
Thank you, Barry, for giving us so much to celebrate over the past three decades.
To the graduates here in person and to members of this class who are joining us live:
Today we mark the years of sustained effort you have invested in working at the highest level in your field… and the sacrifices you have made along the way.
Just a few months ago, few of us imagined that we would be able to be together today. You made this moment possible because of your careful attention to health protocols that keep you and others healthy.
I know it hasn’t been an easy year, but you handled it with grace and even humor – one of our students recently noticed he couldn’t get past Union South – where he went twice a day. week to test – without drooling.
I want to say a special word to the over 40,000 parents, spouses, partners, children, siblings and friends who are with us today on the livestream:
It is also your celebration. I want to thank you for the years of support and sacrifice that have brought your graduate to this day.
To the graduates who have lost friends, colleagues and family members – to the pandemic or other causes – we also remember them.
It has been an extraordinary year. We have seen a convergence of crises:
• The pandemic
• Economic uncertainty
• Political polarization
• And a new level of urgency to take meaningful action against racism and injustice, and to end violence against blacks and brunettes, people of Asian descent and everyone else who has been targeted. of hate crimes in this country.
These things have affected you all, but some of you have faced particular challenges. You deserve special recognition today. Please stand as you can and stay upright:
• If you have taught undergraduate classes in person this year.
• If you had to find out how to teach at a distance this year.
• If you are doing clinical work or research related to COVID-19, or if you have attended testing and vaccination clinics.
• If you are a first responder or front line worker.
• If you had a child who was learning at home instead of at school or preschool.
For all that you have accomplished under particularly stressful circumstances, please give yourself and each other a round of applause.
You can sit down.
I know that many of you have also faced financial difficulties. And you’ve all experienced the dwindling of two things that are central to who we are and what we do here at UW-Madison:
1. Interdisciplinary collaboration with partners on campus and around the world, and
2. Public awareness to share knowledge beyond campus boundaries (what we call the Wisconsin idea).
These are things that depend on the relationships between people. And this university has always been a place that promotes these links. They’re built on a thousand little moments – the conversation in the hallway giving you a new way of thinking about something… Friday afternoons with your lab partners on the patio… or coffee with a friend.
COVID has taken so much from so many people. But it also taught us something really valuable, which is easy to lose sight of in doctoral school:
How to think like a beginner.
Great cellist YoYo Ma attributes his remarkable ability to connect with audiences to his beginner spirit, which he describes as:
Be receptive to your surroundings and be present without judgment.
When we lost the ability to see each other face to face, to take note of all those nonverbal cues that say I get you or I’m confused, we all had to start learning to communicate in different ways again. manners. To listen better, adopt a different pace and ask more questions.
Those of you who teach have lived it every day … as have those of you whose research depends on building and maintaining relationships with communities in Wisconsin and around the world.
Sarah Alexander is a prime example. Sarah is now getting a doctorate. in Civil and Environmental Engineering.
Sarah worked with partners in Ethiopia to develop new approaches to forecast seasonal rainfall and communicate with farmers and communities about uncertain weather conditions to help them build more resilient systems.
Her work is also going to be important here in Wisconsin – but it will only be useful if the information she has is communicated effectively to those who can use it.
Not being able to travel to Ethiopia for in-person workshops, Sarah and her partners worked with community members who gathered farmers outside and held a megaphone next to a cell phone. . It wasn’t ideal, but with this setup, the research team was able to share critically important information.
No matter what your field, COVID has forced you to do things you’ve probably never done before, using new technology and addressing people in different ways.
I suspect this has sharpened your communication skills. And you’ll need these skills to step into a world that doesn’t always believe in science, but urgently needs solutions that only science can provide.
COVID has also taught us to see other facets of our lives through a beginner’s lens. And it turns out that looking at everything you do and finding a different way to do it teaches you a few things that are really worth knowing, like:
• What is essential and what is not
• How to be flexible with yourself and others
• And what energizes you or makes you feel exhausted.
Many of you have stories of the things you decided to stop doing, or the things you discovered or rediscovered in the past year:
• Some of you play the guitar more or learn a new instrument.
• Some of you are learning to meditate or taking an online yoga class.
• And some of you are just buying time for long walks.
These activities are not just pleasant distractions, they are essential to your well-being and help to re-energize you for your job.
When Albert Einstein came across a problem that baffled him, he would walk away and play the violin. Isaac Newton and Carl Sagan took their pens and wrote. Beatrix Potter created Peter Rabbit as an outlet for the frustrations she encountered as a woman of science.
I hope you will continue to try activities that will make you a beginner again.
And I hope you will stay connected to your fellow graduate students, your colleagues for life. They will always laugh and cry with you and be there to celebrate victories, big and small, no matter how many years go by.
After today, with your graduate degree, you will be part of the very powerful community of the most educated people in the world. It gives you the responsibility to put your education to good use – to make the world around you a better place.
And you are also part of the Badger alumni family – over 450,000 people.
Thank you for being part of this community. Best wishes as you embark on the next leg of your journey. Wherever you go, be sure to come back and visit us every now and then here in Madison and let us know how you’re doing.
Congratulations… and to Wisconsin!