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Camp Randall commencement 2024: Golden day, golden speaker, golden memories  

May 11, 2024 By Doug Erickson
People in commencement garb celebrate.

Graduates stand and celebrate as their degrees are conferred. Photo: Althea Dotzour

On an Instagram-perfect day, the University of Wisconsin–Madison celebrated commencement for thousands of 2024 spring graduates at Camp Randall Stadium Saturday, with former Badger hockey legend Meghan Duggan sharing lessons learned during her ascent to Olympic gold. 

“To be back in Madison, to be back in iconic Camp Randall Stadium, to celebrate you and all that you have achieved, know this: For me, it is the honor of a lifetime,” said Duggan, who scaled the heights of her sport, winning Olympic gold in women’s hockey as captain of Team USA in 2018. 

The crowd, including graduates, was estimated at just over 50,000, one of the largest in commencement history. Hundreds more watched by livestream from around the country and the world. 

The Camp Randall ceremony was part of a weekend of commencement festivities. In total, 8,586 students earned degrees. Friday evening at the Kohl Center, diplomas were conferred to all doctoral, MFA and medical professional degree candidates. Saturday’s ceremony celebrated bachelor’s, master’s and law degree candidates.   

A welcome do-over 

Hannah Beck arrived at Camp Randall Saturday hoping that her college commencement would be better than her high school graduation. Granted, it was a low bar. 

Like most members of the “COVID class of 2020,” Beck missed out on an in-person high school graduation ceremony. She was handed her diploma and the contents of her locker through a car window in her school’s parking lot. 

Saturday was different — and so much better. 

See video of the commencement speeches:

“When we walked in here, the sunlight hit us, and it felt so right,” said Beck, of suburban Chicago, who earned a bachelor’s degree in communication arts. “We put in a lot of hard work. We needed this moment.” 

Many in this year’s graduating class felt the universe owed them one. 

“This is my first graduation ceremony since eighth grade,” said Claire Biegalski, a journalism major from suburban Chicago. “And the weather is beautiful, which is the cherry on top.” 

Hailey Frantz, a psychology major from Tomah, Wisconsin, brought her high school tassels with her — “for closure.”

A woman speaks at a podium.

Gracie Nelson, senior class president, shared her thoughts about the eventful four years of college for the graduates. Photo: Bryce Richter

Student speaker Gracie Nelson, senior class president, reminded graduates that, in the past four years, they had lived through COVID dorms, eight Taylor Swift albums, and three Badger football coaches. She emphasized that “it is not our resumes or the titles we hold that define us, but the depth of our humanity.” 

“As we embark on new journeys, let us continue to champion empathy, kindness, and solidarity,” Nelson said. “Let’s allow the bonds we’ve formed at UW–Madison to serve as a foundation for building a more compassionate and equitable world.” 

‘Make good decisions’ 

Duggan, the director of player development for the New Jersey Devils, shared what she described as brilliant advice from UW women’s hockey coach Mark Johnson. At the start of every season, instead of going through a laundry list of rules for players, Johnson simply said, “Make good decisions.” 

A woman speaks at a podium.

Keynote speaker and former UW women’s hockey player Meghan Duggan encouraged the graduates to learn from their failures. Photo: Bryce Richter

“Coach Johnson did not give us explicit instructions,” Duggan said. “Instead, he invited us to consider — and be accountable for — what actually makes a decision ‘good.’ He was trusting us to navigate any uncertainty with our own values and instincts as a guide.” 

Tapping experiences from her life, Duggan offered three pieces of advice to graduates: Be your authentic self, focus on forming solid relationships and understand that winners fail all the time. 

Before winning Olympic gold, Duggan and Team USA took home two silvers. She’s proud of those medals, too, she said, but at the time, there was disappointment and tears. After the second loss, she thought her chance at gold was over. But then, offered the team captain position again, she and her teammates recommitted to learning from their mistakes. 

“Failure is not final unless you choose not to learn from it,” Duggan said. “Since some measure of failure is inevitable in each of the journeys you’re about to take, I hope you react by learning what you’re willing to do to find your own version of success.” 

Near the end of her remarks, Duggan tossed out more nuggets of wisdom, some serious, some whimsical, including: dance at weddings; visit your grandparents; floss your teeth; order that extra plate of French fries for the table; be thoughtful, generous, and kind; and always remember that integrity is your only true currency. 

“Go out and discover who you are and what you stand for,” she concluded. 

Deeply engaged class 

In her remarks, Chancellor Jennifer L. Mnookin noted the celebratory nature of the event but also acknowledged the heaviness. 

A woman speaks at a podium.

Chancellor Jennifer L. Mnookin praised graduates for being deeply engaged in solving problems in the world. Photo: Bryce Richter

“For many in the campus community, there is pain and grief over the devastating destruction, injustice, and loss of life in Gaza and Israel,” Mnookin said. “Some of you have had to navigate this final year of your degree amid anguishing worry about friends and relatives there. Please know that you are not alone at this difficult — very difficult — time.” 

Mnookin praised graduates for succeeding academically and being deeply engaged in solving problems in the world, in the proud tradition of the Wisconsin Idea. 

“That’s how the Class of 2024 helped to make UW–Madison — for the first time in a number of years — the No. 1 university in the nation for Peace Corps volunteers,” she said. 

Mnookin said the class was particularly good at changing the question — asking something new that invites people to explore possibilities they might never have thought of. 

“You and I can’t know today what questions each of you will ask in your lives and careers,” she said. “But I can tell you this: The questions that challenge what we are certain we already know to be true are often the ones that drive extraordinary innovation.”  

‘Not ready to leave’ 

Sanjana Prabhakar, of Mumbai, India, said she had been nervous in 2022 to leave her parents and her homeland to pursue a master’s degree in biotechnology at UW–Madison. She had never been to the United States before — or purchased a winter coat.

“In just two years, Madison became my home,” said Prabhakar, who was given the special honor Saturday of carrying the flag for the Graduate School. 

For Victoria Moda, four years just wasn’t enough. 

“I’m so sad — I’m really not ready to leave,” said Moda, of Methuen, Massachusetts, who earned a bachelor’s degree in biological systems engineering. “I don’t think ‘Freshman Me’ would believe everything I’ve been able to do here.” 

She’s returning to New England post-graduation but will forever remain a Badger. 

“I’ll be back here any chance I get.”

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