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Storm holds off for successful UW-Madison commencement

May 16, 2015 By Susannah Brooks

Photo: Commencement

The commencement ceremony was attended by approximately 5,800 bachelor’s and master’s degree candidates.


For the second year in a row, the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s main commencement ceremony took place outdoors at Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday, May 16. All week the forecast called for rain, leaving graduates, families and friends hoping that any blip on the radar would bypass campus.

“I have to imagine that Madison, Wisconsin, has set a record for the number of hits on the Weather Channel app over the past few days,” said Dougie Moss, secretary of the Class of 2015.

In the end, the ceremony started right on time.

The day in photos: View a full set of photos from 2015 Commencement.

Approximately 5,800 bachelor’s, master’s and law students celebrated on the field, with 41,300 family members and friends in the stands. The skies were calm, with flashes of bright sunlight just as the degrees were granted.

“You notice it’s not raining?” said Chancellor Rebecca Blank, who had maintained confidence in the weather throughout the preceding week. “The director of the National Weather Service is a three-time UW alum, so he came through.”

As she welcomed the audience, Chancellor Blank remarked on the 150th anniversary of the graduation of the first women from UW: six women who received two-year teaching degrees in 1865. After they graduated, she noted, the university tried to prevent more women from attending by eliminating the department.

“Today, we understand that our strength lies in our diversity,” said Blank.

Tony Smith and X’Zayvion McCoy, cousins from Milwaukee, graduated as part of PEOPLE, a program that supports students from underrepresented backgrounds from their pre-college years through graduation.

“Before I came here, I was just withdrawn into myself,” said Smith. “But coming here, experiencing classes by myself and learning to talk out to people made a big difference. Coming in and having someone there with you that’s going through the experience is definitely nice.”

Both Smith and McCoy wished that the ceremony involved walking across the stage, but both enjoyed the experience.

“I think there were a lot of powerful messages expressed today,” said McCoy. I definitely liked hearing students speak about their experiences and hearing the universal experience that we all share and enjoyed.”

The ceremony’s keynote speaker, journalist and cancer prevention advocate Katie Couric, spoke to the adaptability of “the first generation of digital natives,” unfazed by the hectic pace of technological innovation. She referenced her own experience trying something new as global anchor for Yahoo! News after a long career in television.

“It’s exhilarating to transition to a new environment, where I can wear a hoodie and eat free pop chips and learn new words like ‘matrixing,’ ‘whiteboarding’ and ‘iterate,’” she said. “Because life is all about learning new things, no matter how old or young you are.”

Tsering Lhamo, her husband and younger son, who are from Madison, had a new experience of their own, watching elder son Tenzin Tsegyal receive his bachelor’s degree in biology.

“Very good,” she said. “My first time in Camp Randall: graduation for my son.”

Family was a key theme for many students, including Sam Cusick, a journalism major from Stillwater, Minnesota, who plans to work in a Madison public relations firm.

“Lots of friends and family are here from both sides – probably 15 of us,” she said. “The Cusicks roll deep.”

With family and friends waiting excitedly outside the gates, the Class of 2015 left Camp Randall with a lot to think about – jumping around, taking selfies and the advice of peers and role models alike.

“How do you distinguish yourselves from the millions who will be pounding the pavement, just like you?” asked Couric. “My mom’s expression to her four children was, ‘Let ‘em know you’re there!’”