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Video Meet the 2016 Spring Commencement speaker

February 3, 2016 By Susannah Brooks

MADISON — Russell Wilson’s athleticism and leadership have made him a star on and off the field since high school. But there’s one thing he’s never done: don a cap and gown to celebrate his college graduation. As a multi-sport star, his packed schedule didn’t allow him to attend the ceremony.

He’ll get that experience, in a way, when he returns to Madison this spring.

Wilson, the Super Bowl-winning quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks, spent a much lauded season leading the Wisconsin Badgers football team in 2011. He will return to Camp Randall Stadium to deliver the charge to the graduates at the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s combined commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 14.

“We’re honored to have Russell Wilson join us to celebrate commencement in May,” says UW–Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank. “Russell’s feats on the football field, as a great college quarterback and now in the NFL, are legendary and he has been selfless in his charitable work off the field. Whether you follow sports or not, his achievements show how hard work and determination can lead to success at the highest levels. We look forward to his return to Camp Randall.”

“It’s an honor to be asked to speak at any commencement ceremony, but I’m particularly excited to return to a place where I have so many great memories,” says Wilson. “My parents always emphasized that education would prepare me for life beyond school or sports. I was lucky enough to experience some of the amazing things that go on at UW, so I know these graduates are prepared for whatever comes their way.”

Wilson, the Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year for the 2012 season, became the first rookie in NFL history to lead his team to an undefeated home record. The following season, he became the third youngest quarterback in NFL history to win the Super Bowl. He has been named to three Pro Bowl squads and finished the 2015 regular season with the highest passer rating in the NFL.

In 2011, Wilson attended UW–Madison as a graduate student in educational leadership and policy analysis before leaving school to join the NFL. He compiled an NCAA record 191.7 pass efficiency rating, led the Badgers to the Rose Bowl and was the MVP as the Badgers won the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game. Named first team All-Big Ten by both coaches and members of the media, he won the Big Ten’s Griese-Brees Quarterback of the Year award and finished ninth in Heisman Trophy votes.

Wilson created the Why Not You Foundation to honor his family, especially his father, Harrison Wilson III, who passed away from diabetes in 2010. He is a regular visitor to the Seattle Children’s Hospital and hosts the Russell Wilson Passing Academy in multiple cities each summer. He is also the national ambassador for the CR3 Diabetes Association, which assists people with diabetes who cannot afford essential supplies.

Originally from Richmond, Virginia, Wilson was a two-sport star drafted by the Colorado Rockies before dropping baseball to focus on his football career. He graduated from North Carolina State University (NC State) in three years with a bachelor’s degree in communication, then took graduate business courses during the 2010 football season.

Commencement speakers are selected and recommended by senior class officers. The university covers the speaker’s travel expenses but does not pay a fee or other honorarium.

“When considering commencement speakers, we strove to find a prominent, engaging speaker who was committed to service, embodied the Wisconsin Idea and could inspire our students,” says A.J. Hipke, senior class president. “We’re honored to welcome him back to Camp Randall.”

Wilson’s accomplishments resonate strongly with the graduating class.

“Russell Wilson’s time at UW–Madison has inspired us before, and his community engagement continues to inspire us today,” says Bhupinder Manhani, senior class vice president. “He exemplifies leadership, hard work and philanthropy, making him the ideal speaker for the Class of 2016.”

More information about commencement weekend — including parking, school and college ceremonies, and answers to frequently asked questions — is available online at, by phone at 608-263-2400 or by email at