Wind blew directly into the crowd Sunday at the University of Wisconsin-Baraboo/Sauk County graduation ceremony, stealing caps, notes and programs and even threatening to take a tassel or two. But the breezy weather seemed an appropriate accompaniment to the words of commencement speaker George Archibald.
Archibald, the co-founder of the International Crane Foundation, encouraged graduates to find the driving force in life that will allow them to take flight as they pursue their passions. He talked about family, fantasy and faith — and how those elements led him to turn his passion for birds into a life and career dedicated to conservation.
“My first memory in life was crawling on my hands and knees after a duck with her brood,” he said.
Archibald said parents who recognize and encourage their youngsters’ unique interests and talents — especially the “weird” ones — set their students up for success. He said his own family was supportive of his love for birds.
He told the story of a false start, thinking he wanted to go to medical school in Canada, his home country. An opportunity to visit the laboratory of ornithology at Cornell University changed all that, and Archibald pursued ornithology there instead. At Cornell he discovered the work of environmentalist Aldo Leopold and eventually met foundation co-founder Ron Sauey, which led to more connections and experiences that would shape and influence his life’s work.
“I want to encourage you to follow your fantasy,” he urged the graduates, citing other creative, influential people from Wisconsin. Leopold, Frank Lloyd Wright, John Muir, Georgia O’Keeffe and Gaylord Nelson all drew inspiration from the area.
“Don’t take it for granted,” Archibald said. “You live in a very special place.”
Dean Thomas Pleger said the ceremony is an important milestone for graduates. For many, receiving an associate of arts and science degree is the first step toward lifelong learning, he said.
“It’s a culmination of all the efforts of faculty and staff on campus,” Pleger said. “It’s very important to mark this achievement.”
Pleger said the university strives to provide a well-rounded liberal arts education and to help students become engaged community members in their city, state and beyond.
About 70 students participated in Sunday’s commencement ceremony, receiving associate of arts and science degrees. They represented fall 2012, spring 2013 and summer 2013 classes, student services coordinator Kallie Schultz said.
One student also received her bachelor’s degree through a collaborative program with UW-Oshkosh.
Sixteen students graduated with honors, 12 with high honors, and one with highest honors. That student was Lisa Smith of Montello.
Smith chose to pursue her education after she felt her three children — now 12, 16 and 17 — were old enough for her to go back to school.
“It’s been incredible,” she said of her experience at the university. “It offered me a lot more than I thought ever would have been there.”
Smith said she was interested in getting experience on a smaller campus before moving on. She plans to attend UW-La Crosse and to pursue a career in psychology.
Charise Proudian of Baraboo started at the university in fall 2011.
“It’s pretty amazing for me,” she said on graduation day. “I’m the first one in my family to go to college, so it was pretty important to me to do so.”
Proudian said she found the university to be an easy transition from high school to higher education.
“I wanted to be close to home, and I didn’t really know for sure what I wanted to do, so I kind of used this time to explore my options,” she said.
Proudian plans to attend UW-Whitewater as a business major.
Student speaker Gabe Riviere, president of the university’s Student Government Association, offered key words of advice to his classmates — among them kindness, awesomeness and truthfulness.
“Be honest to yourselves and to others,” he said. “Go through the world lightly, and leave no scars.”
Archibald, too, encouraged the students to strive beyond their perceived limitations and to turn to faith and other positive influences to make a difference in their world.
“We all have important missions to do in life, and we all are very limited by our own limitations, but nothing is impossible, in my opinion,” Archibald said. “And I would like to encourage you in the decisions you make to follow your interests and to put your life in the hands of someone who really cares.”