Thompson’s advice to Class of 2016: ‘Find your passion and follow it’

May 14, 2016 By Käri Knutson
Proud family members capture the moment during commencement exercises for graduate and professional students Friday, May 13, at the Kohl Center.

Proud family members capture the moment during commencement exercises for graduate and professional students Friday, May 13, at the Kohl Center. Photo: Bryce Richter

After countless hours of classes, test-taking and homework, more than 900 University of Wisconsin–Madison graduate and professional students received degrees Friday night at the Kohl Center.

“Tonight marks the end of your studies and the beginning of the next phase of your life,” Chancellor Rebecca Blank told the graduates. “If we have done our work well, you are going to leave this place with a deep and nuanced understanding of your field, ready to launch your career.”

She advised the graduates to listen to others, have a sense of humor and take risks.

“There is a world full of challenges out there, but also a world full of possibilities,” Blank said. “I hope that you will bring what you learned here at the University of Wisconsin to those challenges, wherever they lead you.”

Regent President Regina Millner talked about how much things have changed since she graduated from UW–Madison 30 years ago.

“But one thing that hasn’t changed – and won’t change – is the importance of a quality institution, where dedicated and creative faculty inspire students to want more, where innovative research expands possibilities, where fellow students challenge and encourage their peers,” Millner said.

The new graduates had inspiration from photojournalist Lynsey Addario, biochemist William J. Rutter and former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, all of whom received honorary degrees, given to recognize individuals with careers of extraordinary accomplishment.

“There is a world full of challenges out there, but also a world full of possibilities.” – Chancellor Rebecca Blank

Addario received her bachelor’s degree in Italian and international studies from UW–Madison in 1995. The recipient of a Pulitzer Prize and a MacArthur Fellowship, she spoke of her parents’ encouragement to follow her heart and do what she believed in.

“To think that one day I would be honored with a doctorate degree is incomprehensible to me — particularly in recognition for my work as a photojournalist, a work that has always been a labor of love and passion,” Addario said.

Rutter held a postdoctoral appointment with noted scientist Henry Lardy at UW–Madison’s Institute for Enzyme Research early in his career. A pioneering biochemist, Rutter helped lay the foundation for the emerging field of biotechnology. Research breakthroughs under his leadership include the first cloning of genes for insulin and growth hormone, at the University of California, San Francisco, and a recombinant DNA vaccine for hepatitis B and decoded genomes for HIV and hepatitis C viri, at the Chiron Corp.

Rutter spoke of how he was encouraged to test ideas and use new approaches.

“As I reminisce, I think of four joys,” Rutter said: continuing to learn in one’s field, teamwork, competition and contributing to society and humanity.

“And today, as then, there is no better time to be a professional in life sciences,” Rutter said.

“Do something you want to do. Life is too short to be at a job you don’t like. Find your passion and follow it," former Gov. Tommy Thompson told the graduates.

“Do something you want to do. Life is too short to be at a job you don’t like. Find your passion and follow it,” former Gov. Tommy Thompson told the graduates. Photo: Bryce Richter

Thompson received bachelor’s and law degrees from UW–Madison in 1963 and 1966, respectively. He is the longest-serving governor in Wisconsin history, serving for 14 years. Subsequently, he served as U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Thompson spoke with great pride and gratitude for the university and encouraged the graduates to go out into the world remembering the Wisconsin Idea.

“I want every single one of you graduates tonight to look forward to opportunities. To follow your instincts. To follow your passion,” Thompson said. “Do something you want to do. Life is too short to be at a job you don’t like. Find your passion and follow it.”