Katelyn Olson, a communication studies major, offered the following remarks at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh’s 2017 morning commencement ceremony. Olson graduates from the College of Letters and Science.
“To my fellow Titans, I just want to say that we are finally here; we did it. It is a major accomplishment to be sitting in the chair you are in, and to be walking across this stage in a short while. All of the lost sleep, endless dollars on energy drinks, and middle of the library breakdowns have led to this moment.
“To our professors and faculty, thank you for pushing us. I know that we all grumbled every time that we saw there was a research paper on the syllabus, but now I feel like I should be able to put professional APA citation creator on my resume. But seriously, thank you for your unending support and guidance. You were the strong voice of confidence that we needed when our own was lacking.
“To our family and friends here, thank you for all of your support through this process. Those mid-semester pep talks were exactly what we needed to push through to the end. We appreciate all of the love you have continuously shown us through the years. Your impact has been tremendous.
“And lastly, thank you to UW Oshkosh. We all started college hoping to make friends, memories, and figure out who we were supposed to be. Oh, and receive an education of course. Well Oshkosh, you delivered. You had something for each and every one of us. You gave us the life-long friends we were looking for, enough crazy stories and memories to last a lifetime, and an education that is strong and solid. But, this is only the beginning. You have given us the tools to be great thinkers, problem solvers, and storytellers, now it is up to us to go out and use them.
“Now, it is my understanding that these speeches are always supposed to be inspirational and motivating. I think I am supposed to tell you to follow your dreams and to reach as high as you can. Well, I do hope that you do these things, and I do hope that the world opens up opportunities for you. But, I can’t promise that you’re going to walk out of here with a fire in your heart because of what I said. The best that I can do is to just tell you a story.
“When I was in high school, I was in a car accident that completely changed me. A drunk driver hit my friend and me, and I remember watching as their headlights came crashing into my seat. The next thing I remember was looking up to a bunch of unfamiliar faces strapping me down to a stretcher. In those moments, you don’t realize how much you would give to see a smile. The first person to smile at me was my first responder. He kneeled down by me, smiled, and said, ‘We’re going to take care of you.’ He wheeled me into the ambulance, and then did a very human thing: he told me a story. This is the moment that I realized that stories are essential. One single story can change the way a situation feels, or how you see someone.
“The thing I have learned most from telling stories is how powerful they can be. I have worked with Humans of Oshkosh here on campus for the last two years. This project circles around storytelling, and one truth has been proven time and time again to me: people love to tell stories. They have this incredible ability to bring us together, and create this bond in just a short while.
“I also realized how incredible everyone is. We all have that story that we share time and time again. It’s a story about something we are proud of, something that we feel we learned and grew from. Everyone has one, and it is amazing what happens when we sit and listen to each other. We can realize that we are not alone is this world, or it can inspire us to move on to bigger and better things.
“American radio personality Ira Glass once said, ‘Great stories happen to those who can tell them.’
“I encourage each of you to be storytellers. To go out into the world and make your stories happen, and then never be afraid to share them. So much can happen when we reach out and connect to one another.
“I hope that when you look back on your time at Oshkosh, that stories come naturally to you. I hope that you filled your time with people and activities that changed you and opened you to new opportunities. These activities were hard to miss, we only got 5 emails a day about all of the things we could and should be doing. I love that we all have these stories, but I want you to remember that they are only a chapter in your book. You have so much more left to write, go create these stories.
“I am so proud of my class, and I cannot wait to see where each and every one of you takes your life. It has been an honor being your classmate and friend. I thank you for being a part of so many of my stories, and I hope that I was a part of yours.