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Wrapping up a fall semester that was in so many ways exceptional, the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh held its 56th midyear commencement Saturday, honoring the academic achievements of students from the Fond du Lac, Fox Cities and Oshkosh campuses.

More than 1,000 candidates for associate, bachelor’s, graduate and doctoral degrees were saluted in about an hour-long presentation that included formal remarks, speeches from a student and special guest, and digital slides of graduates. The new grads join the nearly 100,000 UW Oshkosh alumni making a positive impact around the world.

Here’s more about some of these proud new graduates, their accomplishments and their futures:

Education major Brittany Ebert of Winneconne plans to get a job teaching―she is certified to teach first through eighth grades. Though COVID-19 made things difficult as she capped her senior year, Ebert said she thought she learned a lot more than any other semester. “I had a good relationship with my professors at UWO and had a really good experience,” she said.

Cole Mueller of Winneconne is seeking a job as a graphic designer. The fine arts major said a job search has been more difficult because of COVID-19―he is hoping to get a job in the Appleton area. Mueller said it’s been “thrilling” to get through college. “It’s like graduating high school again, but when you know what you want to do,” he said. “I feel a lot more confident.”

Chris Rand of Menasha obtained his Master of Business Administration degree. A Marine Corps veteran, Rand welcomes graduation day after overcoming very serious obstacles in 2020. The father of two set out to visit all of Wisconsin’s state parks this year but took a scary fall one night while hiking. He broke his neck, back, several ribs and suffered other injuries and had to make it about a mile in the dark to find help.

After a spinal surgery, it was unclear if he’d be able to walk again. He’s since seen many positive signs in rehab, is on his feet again, and one of the first places he went without a cane or neck brace to come to campus to smile wide for this photo.

“The pandemic made it possible for me to continue my studies from a hospital bed,” he said, “and I grabbed a hold of this MBA as a much-needed accomplishment in my life.”

Erica Lorenz of Sheboygan Falls graduates with a degree in marketing with an emphasis on digital marketing and market analytics and insights. Earlier this year, a connection made through marketing analytics class project that led to Lorenz scoring a summer internship with the Texas-based company Zen Media. In late November she accepted a full-time position as an account executive, a role she’ll begin the first week of 2021.

“Zen Media was incredibly flexible with my busy school schedule and very understanding of me being a student,” she said. “I wanted to continue working throughout the semester because the experienced I gained during the summer months there was invaluable.”

Since the company employs mostly remote workers, Lorenz will soon move to Rockford, Illinois to live with her boyfriend, a fellow UWO grad. She also leaves the University as a two-year letter winner in both indoor and outdoor track and field.

Aaron Beiser, of Neenah, is ready to take the skills he’s learned from the UW Oshkosh nursing program and apply them during his future endeavors in the nurse residency program at the University of Wisconsin Hospital Thoracic Unit in Madison. He attributes participating in clinicals to be the biggest way he was prepared for life after graduation by helping to build his critical thinking and multitasking skills while also providing real-world work experience.

During his time on campus, Beiser was involved in the Beta Theta Pi fraternity, Men in Nursing and Oshkosh Student Association senate. He said being involved in organizations gave him exceptional experiences to help cultivate himself and he highly encourages anyone on campus to also get involved.

Patrick Lang, an accounting major from Appleton, earned the Accounting Faculty Scholarship in spring 2020 for his top-notch academic, leadership and professional skills throughout his college career. As a sophomore, he was voted onto the executive board of the UWO Accounting Club. As club vice president in fall 2018, he oversaw all aspects of the silent auction that accompanied the 47th annual CPA Night. His involvement in the Accounting Club as well as other campus activities helped him develop a network in the profession.

“There were many activities that helped me overall. One was going to the Career Fair, getting myself out there among the professional organizations and networking. There are so many opportunities out there, and I reached for whatever I could,” he said.

That determination led to a full-time internship with Baker Tilly, a CPA firm, followed by a job offer before graduation. Lang will begin this full-time position in January.

It took 5½ years and three changes of her major, but it was all worth it. Molly Wheatley, of Oak Creek, graduates with a degree in history, a minor in anthropology and an LGBTQ certificate. “I love history,” Wheatley said, noting she has a special interest in the Holocaust. The aspiring teacher said UW Oshkosh stood out from other schools because of its safe environment and its Project Success program that helped her achieve her goals.

Fond du Lac resident Lux Beibhinn, who graduates magna cum laude with an Associate of Arts and Science degree, said the Fond du Lac campus was close to home and helped with the transition of returning to college as an adult learner. Beibhinn, who didn’t have support of family members with regards to gender identity and sexual orientation, was able to lean on professor Paisley Harris for support and to provide a “safe place to be myself.” Beibhinn majored in women’s and gender studies with a minor in sociology and the LGBTQ+ certificate. In addition to a student, Beibhinn is a parent, works at a homeless shelter and served as president of the Fond du Lac Campus Pride Alliance.

“Lux completely took the lead on planning and running meetings and activities,” Harris said. “They made club meetings a safe space for LGBTQ+ individuals and allies to get to know each other better and share challenges in their lives.”

Beibhinn transferred this year to the Oshkosh campus, with plans of finishing a bachelor’s degree and continuing studies to earn a master’s degree.

Chayakam Suanboon was happy to get some photos with a distinguished hood over her graduation gown―signifying her master’s degree in secondary education. Suanboom soon will depart Oshkosh and the United States for her home country. “I’m going to go back to Thailand to be a teacher,” she said of her post-commencement plans.

Leila Cisse traveled a long way to attend UW Oshkosh. Cisse was born in Illinois, but grew up in Ivory Coast in West Africa. The French major decided to attend college at UWO, where her uncle, Mamadou Coulibaly, is a geography professor. Cisse has a position locally with Alta Resources, but plans to move to South Korea to teach English and apply to graduate school.

Human services major Foster Van Linn graduates with a host of student activities on his resume from his time on the UW Oshkosh Fox Cities campus. Most notable are his efforts with the Gender and Sexuality Alliance, focusing on gender equity and advocacy of the LBTQ+ community, as well as his work with the Fox Student Association.

“I worked closely with our study body President William Hansen on mental health initiatives and on essential accessibility issues,” he said. “I learned how to deal with adversity and how to overcome my anxiety for the good of the student body.”

Van Linn hopes he has left an impression of kindness on the Fox Cities campus. “I wish the students of Fox the best of luck as they work to make our school a better place.”

Steven DeVine, of Janesville, said he grew up “making scenarios” as a pretend broadcaster―he had different plans than becoming a teacher like both of his parents. As a 12-year-old, he toured the Janesville Gazette and two radio stations with a friend’s dad. That was all it took for him to decide his future career path. The UW Oshkosh radio TV film (RTF) graduate is seeking a job as a producer or on-air talent. Someday he hopes to be a program director.

DeVine said he considered attending UW-Milwaukee but toured UWO on the recommendation of a friend. “I was so happy when I came here and saw the campus,” he said, adding he was impressed with the RTF program.

Rachel Nussbaum, of Appleton, who graduates with a degree in finance, got a taste of her future job when she worked as an intern for the accounting firm Baker Tilly early this year. “I’m excited to be back with the team,” she said, noting the internships, evaluations, company connections and practice activities at UW Oshkosh all helped her get hired full time with Baker Tilly. She advises younger students to take advantage of the opportunities before them at UWO.

Nursing graduate and Oshkosh native Austyn Sippl (right) said UW Oshkosh has her well prepared for her career. “It’s exciting, but scary to enter the real world―especially during the pandemic,” she said. Sippl will be working on the medical-surgical unit at Ascension Northeast Wisconsin Mercy Hospital in Oshkosh, with hopes of someday becoming a nurse in obstetrics-labor/delivery. She said she is looking forward to starting her nursing career. “I am interested to see how things change with the new vaccine becoming available and I’m hoping to see some positive updates with COVID-19 cases. I think there’s a lot unknown yet, but I am optimistic!”

Marissa Forster, who graduates with a bachelor’s degree in nursing, spent time in her clinical in the intensive care unit at a hospital in her hometown of Manitowoc. As a student, she didn’t directly assist COVID-19 patients, but was able to see first-hand the vast number of people needing care. She has accepted a position on the medical-surgical unit at Aurora Medical Center in Oshkosh. Forster said she was inspired to become a nurse after her fiancé, Dylan, was in a serious accident and she saw the impact nurses had on his recovery. Like her friend, Austyn Sippl, Forster aspires someday to be a nurse in a labor and delivery department.

Jennifer Davies of Oshkosh shed “happy tears” as she stopped at a Countdown to Commencement event in Reeve Union in November to pick up her diploma cover and tassel. The mother of six is graduating with a degree in human services leadership and focused on getting a job―possibly as a county-employed case manager. “I need a retirement and I want to help society,” she said. Not the first in her family to graduate, her son, Dylan, graduated from UWO several years ago.

Hannah Mider said she is planning to add to her family’s history of public service. The Wauconda, Illinois native graduates with a degree in biology and is planning to be licensed as an emergency medical technician. Her brother is a paramedic and her uncle is a firefighter. “I didn’t want to be a nurse,” she said. “My end-goal is to be a physician’s assistant.” Interestingly, she was inspired to be a physician’s assistant after seeing them in action when she tore her ACL and needed surgery.

Honors College student Emma Coursin said the COVID-19 pandemic and online learning was tough, but she achieved her College of Business degree in supply chain management. The Waukesha native said she’ll miss her work sewing and costuming with the UWO theatre department. Her goal is to find employment in the Twin Cities and to volunteer at a local community theatre.

Sisters Taylor and Sami Captain of Oshkosh have finished their college careers together. Taylor, who is about a year and a half older than Sami, studied elementary education. Sami, meanwhile, majored in secondary education. Both future teachers have long-term substitute roles in their post-grad plans—Taylor in the Kimberly school district and Sami in Neenah.

“I don’t know if I would say it was helpful to have my sister in college, but I can say it was a blast!” Taylor said. “I wouldn’t have wanted my college experience any other away. We attend lots of campus events, would meet up on campus between classes, took some classes together—it was great and I wouldn’t change a thing.”

History major Hannah Tynan, who is graduating from UW Oshkosh, Fond du Lac campus with an associate degree, has worked hard to balance college studies with raising three young boys and helping to raise younger siblings. Professor Paisley Harris called Tynan, a McNair Scholar, an “outstanding student.”

“I had the privilege of having Hannah in several of my history classes, starting with my first-year seminar that focused on movements for equal rights and in my Intro to Women’s and Gender Studies class,” she said.

Harris said Tynan is a “fierce anti-racism activist” who took an active role in summer Black Lives Matter protests. Tynan, who hopes to graduate by spring 2022 with a bachelor’s degree from UWO, would like to work in a museum setting with the opportunity to bring underrepresented people often left out of history into exhibits. Tynan will work this summer with professor Gabriel Loicono on a McNair project to identify factors which have prevented the Brothertown Indian Nation from being officially recognized as a tribe by the federal government.