Retirement reception a great event

What a night! I want to thank everyone who attended my retirement reception and offered such kind and encouraging words to me, my wife, Debbie, and our children, Erica and Melly.

Over the course of our time at UW-Stout we have met many, many people and made lifelong friends, and it was incredible to see so many of them help us celebrate in the Great Hall of the Memorial Student Center. I obviously have made many great memories at UW-Stout, and the event Wednesday is right at the top.

I’d like to thank all of the speakers: UW System President Ray Cross; state Sen. Patty Schachtner; Regent Mark Tyler; Faculty Senate President Petre “Nelu” Ghenciu; incoming Stout University Foundation President Kim Polzin; my friend and UW-Stout alumna Scott Cabot; and Assistant Chancellor Meridith Wentz, who served as master of ceremonies.

I was pleased to see so many other dignitaries and public officials there, including Regent President John Behling; Karen Schmitt, UW System interim vice president for Academic and Student Affairs; UW-River Falls Chancellor Dean Van Galen; David Brukhardt, UW System interim vice president for corporate and economic engagement; former state Sen. Sheila Harsdorf; former state Rep. Rob Kreibich; and Menomonie Mayor Randy Knaack, as well as Bill Flesch, a UW-Stout graduate who has gone on to succeed in the business world and is on the steering committee for our Pathways Forward comprehensive campaign.

During my remarks, I thanked our faculty and staff that are “engaged, focused on student success, committed to continuous improvement and not just ‘inspiring innovation’ but making it a way of business.”

Because of our faculty and staff, I said, “the future is bright for UW-Stout and our students.”

I also would like to thank everyone who helped make the reception happen, including the events staff in the Memorial Student Center, University Dining and my two fantastic office staff members, Julie Zack and Dianne Sinz. A news release on the event is available here.


Wednesday started off with another retirement reception, this one for the 24 employees who have retired or will retire soon. These employees accounted for 553 years of service. While it is bittersweet to see our employees leave campus, I certainly wish them all the best in retirement and hope to see them again.

Honoring our great university staff

On Tuesday, I was pleased to participate in the university staff appreciation awards recognition celebration. This event included all the monthly university staff honorees.

They are Maryjo Pittman, School of Art and Design; Sonja Gilbertson, College of Arts, Communication, Humanities and Social Sciences; Breanna Baron, Provost’s Office; Jodi Kegan, Facilities Management; Steve Riley, Facilities Management; Aimee Lipke, Memorial Student Center; Bonni Falkner, Provost’s Office; Kathleen Brown; University Dining; and Betty Johnson, Facilities Management.

It is wonderful to have a program on campus that gives our university staff the recognition they so greatly deserve.

USS Award winners

Discussing budget priorities with legislators

On Monday, I visited with legislators from western Wisconsin during our annual legislative lunch, a tradition jointly sponsored by UW-Stout, UW-Eau Claire and UW-River Falls.

This year, UW-River Falls Chancellor Dean Van Galen was our host. In my presentation, I gave the legislators a campus update and then emphasized the need for the Legislature to approve Gov. Evers’ proposal to give UW employees two 2% pay raises in 2019-21 and to have the Legislature pay for the entire pay package, rather than sharing the cost with the campuses.

I also made the case for the Legislature to approve the $35 million renovation project proposed for South Hall.

The Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee is beginning to vote on changes to Gov. Evers’ budget proposal, so the timing of the lunch was good since one of the legislators attending was Rep. Shannon Zimmerman, R-River Falls, who is on the finance committee.

Over the summer I would suggest that faculty and staff visit our state budget website to keep up to date on budget developments.


Running for a worthy cause

I would like to bring to everyone’s attention a great cause that one of our Cabinet members, Assistant Chancellor Meridith Wentz, is participating in. Meridith is training for the New York City Marathon on Nov. 3 and is running it to raise money for the ALS Therapy Development Institute. Meridith lost her father on July 12, 2017, to this degenerative disease that has no known cure.

“He never got to meet his first grandson, or see his kids get married, or travel the world,” Meridith says in the website she has set up to raise donations. “He won’t get to continue his landscaping, gardening or bird-watching, or see the outcome of all the work he put into my own garden.”

I recommend you visit the website and consider contributing to her effort.

My commencement speech text

Finally, it has become a tradition for me to publish the text of my commencement speech.  Here are the remarks that I gave to three ceremonies on May 4.  I’d also like to wish our faculty, staff and students a wonderful summer and hope you have the opportunity to relax and recharge for the next academic year!


Greetings on this special day to our graduates, families and friends, my colleagues on stage and in the audience — and everyone else who is celebrating with us.

It is truly an honor and a pleasure to recognize the accomplishments of these talented individuals. Today is all about you, graduates, and what you’ve accomplished.

Your success has a foundation. My wonderful mother-in-law, Donna, would often remind my wife Deb and I, as we were raising our daughters Erica and Melly, that the most important job we have as parents is to give our children “roots and wings” — in other words give them the values needed to succeed in life and the freedom to use those values.

Perhaps this is best captured by one of my favorite John Denver songs, “The Eagle and the Hawk.” The lyrics serve as a metaphor for this occasion. In part they say:

“All those who see me, all who believe in me Share in the freedom I feel when I fly.

“Come dance with the west wind and touch on the mountain tops Sail over the canyons and up to the stars and reach for the heavens and hope for the future and all that we can be and not what we are”

Parents, you can be proud  because your graduates — like the eagle and hawk in John Denver’s song — are ready to take flight.

So I’d like to recognize the parents here today. Please rise. (APPLAUSE)

Beyond parents, even more support is needed to get to and through college. So I also would like to recognize the grandparents and other family members who traveled to see these cherished diplomas being handed out. Could all of these family members please stand? (APPLAUSE)

And, I’d like to wish an early happy Mother’s Day to all the moms here today.

Thank you.

Charge to the graduates

Graduates, you are about to embark on a new, amazing journey.

I know how you feel. I too am about to begin a new phase in my life. I am retiring in August. This is my final commencement ceremony after 5 years as chancellor and 32 years total at this institution — that’s exactly one-quarter of our 128-year history.

So, as a UW-Stout graduate myself, I have an idea of what’s on your mind today.

If I may, I have a little advice:

You may be thinking — what will my first job be like and where will my career go from there?

I would recommend — to never stop opening doors and pushing yourself. I remember my first job — I taught 9th grade shop classes in the River Falls school district. You never know where life will take you. Be open to the opportunities that come your way, and because you have a college degree there will be many.

You may be thinking — how with my education can I make a difference in the world?

I would recommend — giving it all you’ve got.

Try to be a change agent, a contagion of optimism and positivity, and continue to learn. Be courageous. And be resilient. The ancient Greek philosopher Epictetus said: “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”

I’ve always tried to give 150 percent to everything I do. I remember a high school teacher who used to put a quote of the day on the blackboard. One I particularly remember is that you get out of life what you put into it. It became a daily reminder that I have to put more into life than I take out.

The great Minnesota Vikings lineman Alan Page, who went on to become a Minnesota Supreme Court Justice, once said, “The key to whatever success I have had can be found in a willingness to push myself beyond perceived limitations and a willingness to be involved in the community around me.”

You make be thinking — how can I earn the respect of others in the world?

I would recommend — being a servant leader. James Hunter, author of the book “The Servant,” said, “Patience, kindness, humility, selflessness, respectfulness, forgiveness, honesty and commitment. These character-building blocks, or habits, must be developed and matured if we are to become successful leaders who will stand the test of time.”

Share your ideas and thoughts civilly and professionally. Epictetus also said, “You have two ears and one mouth, so you should listen twice as much as you speak.”

I have tried in my career to earn the respect of others by disagreeing without being disagreeable.

You may be thinking — about how much you’ve accomplished in the past four years and how you couldn’t have done it without the help of others.

I too have been reflecting — on what’s transpired at Stout since I took over as chancellor in 2014. I am especially grateful for the amazing faculty and staff who have surrounded me. Together we have:

  • Successfully navigated a historic $5.3 million state budget cut to our institution
  • Expanded our polytechnic mission with five new academic majors
  • Dedicated a School of Engineering, two new laboratories and the Center for the Study of Institutions and Innovation
  • Increased private support to the university, with a $35 million comprehensive campaign that has almost reached its goal, thanks to the generous support of many, many people who love UW-Stout
  • Launched the Blue Devil Guarantee Scholarship to help more young people go to college
  • Made inclusivity and diversity a greater priority on campus, including adding a new Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
  • Worked to renovate several major buildings on campus
  • And we’ve seen our employment rate for recent graduates go up every year — to an amazing 98.7 percent!

William Kirwin, the 12th president of Ohio State University from 1998 to 2002, once stated: “You become a great university because you have great programs. You have great programs because you have a great faculty and staff.”

I would like to personally thank our faculty and staff for being terrific SERVANT LEADERS!


Before closing, I’d like to recognize all the people who were involved in helping you get to this point in your lives. I have found this exercise useful in showing our graduates an important lesson that has been reinforced for me — that every student who earns a diploma gets to commencement with the assistance of a great many people.

  • Would all of the graduates here today who received some form of financial aid, a grant, or loan, or scholarship please rise and stay standing?
  • Would all of the graduates present who received crucial help or encouragements from a member of the faculty, staff, coach, advisor or other member of the UW-Stout community please stand and remain standing?
  • Would all of the graduates who benefited by studying with a friend or fellow student or had a tutor, please rise and stay standing?
  • Would all of the graduates who received help and encouragement from their parents or another family member or close friend please rise?

As the Roman philosopher Cicero once stated: “A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all the other virtues.”

You, like me, were blessed to have the assistance, generosity, encouragement and contributions of others.  Let’s take the time once again to thank them for their important impacts on our lives

Please be seated.

For all of us at UW-Stout, it truly is an honor to share this moment with you. I can’t tell you how much it means to me personally.

On behalf of the UW-System Board of Regents and UW-Stout’s faculty, staff, and fellow students, I extend our sincere congratulations to you and offer our best wishes as you take the first steps on your next exciting journey!

Finally today, graduates, I sincerely hope that you are thinking — “I’m glad I chose UW-Stout.”

I know we’re glad that you did.

We can’t wait to see what you do with your lives and take great pride in your accomplishments. Please stay in touch and return often. We can learn from your experiences too!

As I prepare to leave this fine university, I’m glad that I chose UW-Stout almost 45 years ago as a student and then as a place of employment. It has been my life. I will leave here in August hoping that, in some way, I have given back even a small measure of what UW-Stout has given to me.

Graduates, your future is bright.

And I believe the future is bright for UW-Stout as well.

Thank you.