SOMERS — More than 300 University of Wisconsin-Parkside graduates turned their tassels Saturday, one of the school’s largest winter graduating classes ever.
Of the group, 54 percent were first-generation students — the first in their immediate family to receive a college degree.
Chancellor Deborah Ford said more than any other university in the UW System, Parkside is known for being diverse, dynamic and ever-adapting, which is part of what makes it such a special community, she said.
“Today’s graduates join a legacy of serving our communities as proud and talented UW-Parkside alumni,” Ford said. “Each graduate carries a very personal and compelling story of determination and success to this moment. It is the many individual stories that make up the true living legacy of our mission.”
Ford also reminded graduates to take some time to reflect on their experiences, the people they met and the successes they’ve achieved and enjoyed during their time at UW-Parkside.
“The successes and the challenges have shaped you along your journey and created your story in this moment in time,” Ford said. “These experiences will empower your future success.”
It was the first time any Parkside graduation ceremony was streamed live on the Web, and the crowd was encouraged to share the experiment and photos on social media. They even started their own Twitter hashtag (#parksidegrad) that was shared with guests prior to the ceremony.
In addition, to show the day was about the graduates, Ford took a moment to take a photo of the graduating class with a Google Nexus tablet.
“No, I’m not going to take a selfie,” she said. “I’m going to take a picture to show the rest of the world that you are ready.”
Commencement speaker Will Allen, chief executive officer and founder of Growing Power Inc., a nonprofit center for urban agriculture training, focused on a simple message — stay in touch.
“It’s very important for you all to stay in touch with your friends and classmates, because along the line, you’re going to need each other,” he said. “We need to work together and partner together, and you need those important people.”
In addition to keeping connections with their friends, classmates and teachers, Allen also urged the group to make a difference in one way or another, because future generations will depend on it.
“Go out there and change the world,” Allen said. “And don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do something. ... Go out and prove that it can be done.”
The commencement also included a presentation of four outstanding graduate awards to students nominated by faculty members. Recipients included biological sciences graduates Cassandra Hughes and Constantinos Vrakas and Keith Krukowski, a geosciences graduate. Jeffrey Townsend was awarded the Chancellor’s Award.
Jeffrey Townsend of Kenosha was recognized with the Chancellor’s Award during the 2013 winter commencement ceremony.
Townsend graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Parkside on Saturday with a bachelor’s degree in graphic design. But his educational experience reaches beyond the university’s classrooms.
Townsend has tutored children and teens as a team leader at the Kenosha YMCA, worked at the Chrysler plant and worked as a graphic designer for the ARTery, a community organization in Milwaukee.
In addition, he always seems to find a way to impress those who work closely with him, according to his nominator.
“Whether it is learned on the streets or in the formal classroom setting, we are all byproducts of our general education,” he said. “We represent a culmination of experiences gained as we move through life and gather wisdom passed on from others.”
Recently, Townsend’s 30-year-old brother said he was inspired by Jeff’s dedication to a university education and considered a return to higher education.
Townsend said the brief revelation taught him two significant lessons: having a positive influence on someone can come from the most unexpected place, and, more importantly, you should never stop learning.
“I am humbled and honored by this amazing award, and the spirit of this award will not be lost in me as I move forward in this incredibly fruitful period in my life,” Townsend said.
Townsend restarted his college career at Parkside after several years in the workforce and said he treasured the opportunity to return, saying his experience has been a privilege.