A native of Pleasant Prairie, Cory Sparks graduates from the College of Letters and Science with a bachelor’s degree in radio TV film, minor in multimedia journalism and certificate in social media. He is a member of the University’s Honors College and was named to the dean’s list all four years at UW Oshkosh.
Here are his prepared remarks from Saturday morning’s commencement ceremony:
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Thank you so much to my family, lifelong friends and of course Chancellor Leavitt and the commencement committee for this opportunity.
I’m honored to stand in front of you today on a day that you all have probably been longing for—commencement. I’ll admit, I’m kind of out of my element. I’m a radio TV film major here at UW Oshkosh, and I was lucky enough to call play-by-play for UW Oshkosh Athletics and the wonderful station of Titan TV for four years. So while I’m used to being in front of a microphone, it’s usually accompanied by passionate and rapid yelling at a sporting event somewhere on campus. I’ll try not to do that here for the sake of your eardrums.
First, congratulations to all of you on getting to this point. Regardless of the degree you received, area of study you specialize in or route that you took to get here, you are all taking a leap of faith into the next step of our lives. In doing so, we all had distinctive journeys in getting here the last few years.
Let’s go back to March 2020—the month everything shut down. I remember when I found out, my roommate told me we’ve got an extended spring break. I’m thinking, are you KIDDING ME? Thank goodness. That history paper can wait a bit.
But we had no clue what was in store.
Many of us experienced all time lows. Some of you took financial hits, got furloughed from your jobs, took a break from school. Maybe you were working extra hours as an essential worker, working doubles as a Certified Nursing Assistant or were picking up shifts anywhere and everywhere to make ends meet as you balanced your education. Some of you lost family and friends. Some of you entered a dark place that comes with being isolated in one’s home for days, weeks, months on end. You are all my heroes.
Because all of you, somehow or someway, found your way here. Maybe you just needed some time off. Maybe you changed course, transferred or went through some other major adjustment that could’ve stopped you some from walking this stage today. But you didn’t halt. You didn’t waiver. You persevered.
As the great Serena Williams said that “a champion is not defined by their wins, but by how they can recover when they fall.”
So there can be two approaches when someone falls: pessimism and persistence. I remember broadcasting COVID games here at UWO with nobody in the crowd, thinking “no company will want to hear this work of mine. I have to inject energy into this crowdless arena and somehow convince employers that I’m enough for them while all of these professionals on TV sound electric.” With that mentality, in any space, hitting your goals is tough. But then I went over my tape, fixed redundancies and other blemishes, got feedback from others and improved. I also remembered to love myself and the strong suits I’ve developed in doing what I love. In going through that process, and enjoying the occasion while I was at it, I took one step closer to my goal.
Speaking of goals, the UWO Women’s Gymnastics Team went all the way to nationals, witnessed their season halting in its tracks in March of 2020 and was all forced to deal with the reality that they’d never know the result of what felt like such a magical season. That group came back in 2022, despite having numerous meets where athletes and coaches were out … BUT that unit took what may have been the ugliest time period of their lives and turned it into UW Oshkosh’s 48th national championship win.
That team is a great example of this motto- don’t accept a reality different than the one you’ve dreamed of. All of us have either career goals, financial goals, family goals, or personal achievement goals of some sort. If you look at where you want to be in one of those spaces, and start doing everything you can to make that happen, what’s stopping you?
What’s stopping you from putting in the preparation, repetition and heart that needs to be done to get there?
I’m bringing all of this “reach for the sky” talk up, and maybe you’re imagining what feels like some outlandish goal and how much of a hill you’ll have to climb to get there. But let me ask you this; a couple of years ago, did graduating feel like it was going to be extremely difficult to attain?
What got you here? When you were up until 2 in the morning preparing for an exam that you felt like would make or break your career, what pushed you through it? Was it a drive to triumph through college to make your family proud? Was it your own promise to yourself that you’re always going to put in 110% no matter what it is that you do? Whatever drove you through those tough moments, where some would quit and never think twice of it, got you here today.
This huge “chase your goals” speech isn’t just about what’s ahead; it’s about the fact that you’ve already taken every single one of the previously mentioned measures to get here. Whatever it is that got you here, can and will get you through your next challenges as you graduate onto new journeys. Congratulations to all of you.
More from UW Oshkosh’s spring commencement: