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Emilee Wise, the student speaker at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh’s 58th midyear commencement, earned a bachelor’s degree in education. A Neenah native, she began her college career at UW Oshkosh’s Fox Cities campus before transferring to Oshkosh. As a member of The Honors College she participated in a study abroad program in Paris. Outside the classroom, Wise was a tutor at the Dyslexia Reading Connection, taught Korean students about environmental social governance using Zoom and student-taught a diverse group of students at Oshkosh North High School. After graduation, Wise hopes to become a high school English teacher dedicated to advancing students’ literacy progress and guiding them to become conscientious members of their local, national and global communities.

Here are her prepared remarks from Saturday’s ceremony: 


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Fourteen years ago, my mother began planting a garden. She wanted a hide-away—one with a shrubbery tunnel and flower beds that bloom in every month of summer. The spring rains came, followed by the summer sun, and her precious garden hide-away lacked luster. There were gaps in her shrubbery tunnel, her flowers were scarce, and the climbing roses weren’t climbing in the slightest. Fourteen years ago, my mother planted a garden—and she knew she’d see it grow.

Emilee Wise

Somewhere between four and fourteen years ago, many of us stood at the end of one chapter and the beginning of another. Oftentimes, it’s that liminal space that scares us the most. Before my freshman year in the fall of 2019, I scribbled an abridged Elisabeth Elliot quote on my wall: “Sometimes fear does not subside, and you must do it afraid.” During my first year at college, which was dampered by the pandemic shutdowns of 2020, the quote on my wall became even more condensed: “do it afraid.” Being a college student in the midst of a pandemic taught me that I do not have time to wait for my fear and uncertainty to subside. Our time to live is now.

“Do it afraid” became, to me, a daily reminder. Every day, however, the “it” seemed to change. If I’m honest, most days my “it” was embarrassingly small, usually along the lines of “do Collaborate Ultra break-out rooms afraid.” Other times, the “it” seemed far larger—for example, “do studying abroad in Paris during COVID afraid.” Call my priorities out of line, but I promise you that the fear I faced at receiving a positive COVID test and being left alone in a foreign country knowing only the phrases “thank you,” “pardon me,” and “Can I have a carafe of water” was no match for the fear that spiked the very core of my being at the mention of Collaborate Ultra break-out rooms. Clearly, my fear of break-out rooms has yet to subside—and I doubt it ever will.

Everyone here has an “it”—that thing that just seems so scary, so overwhelming, that the fear refuses to subside. We, however, do not have the time to be afraid and idle. Only a few semesters ago, we stood outside the door of our first college class. Today, we stand in gowns and silly hats, once more at the end of one chapter and the beginning of the next. For the past few years, we have been diligently planting the seeds of our futures. Each time we’ve refused to let fear win, each time we’ve been afraid and done our “it” anyway, we’ve sown a single seed in the garden of our lives. Semester after semester, we’ve tended to this garden faithfully, and now we finally harvest the fruits of our labors. Our futures are in full bloom before us.

Fourteen years ago, my mother began planting a garden. With dirty fingernails and grass stained knees, she planted roses and hydrangeas, peonies and pines, lavender bushes and cherry blossoms. Come June, amidst her tall, pink roses and full-shrubbery tunnel, I’ll be celebrating my wedding. My mother has worked her garden for over a decade and, because of her diligence, my fiance and I get the honor of beginning a new story within its beauty.

Today, all of us begin a new chapter and a new season, which means we have new seeds to sow and new gardens to tend. So let us commit to dirty fingernails and to grass stained knees, to planting and tending and growing beautiful, full-bloomed futures. We are all planting our gardens—and I know we’ll see them grow.