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More than a year into the global pandemic, the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh celebrated four in-person ceremonies Saturday, May 15 with friends and family attending following safety protocols at Kolf Sports Center.

Over the course of nearly 12 hours, hundreds of degree candidates from all three campuses—Fond du Lac, Fox Cities and Oshkosh—walked across the stage, received their diplomas and moved their mortarboard tassels from the right to left as they joined the 100,000-plus strong Titan alumni family.

Click through the gallery below to see significant scenes we’ve captured from the exciting and emotional day. Enjoy our historic 147th spring commencement during our sesquicentennial year—moment by moment.

7:15 a.m.: On your marks

Chancellor Andy Leavitt had to set his alarm extra early to get ready to start commencement day with a live interview for a local TV station. The stage is set for hundreds of degree candidates to receive their diplomas during UW Oshkosh’s 147th spring commencement ceremonies.

Study buddies

Lisa Kalscheur and Mary Spielbauer traveled from Madison to receive their formal hooding that signifies their doctor of nursing practice degrees. The friends said “a lot of life happened” during the five years of their program. Each had babies and there were new houses and jobs over the past several years.  The new nurse practitioners received apricot hoods at the 8 a.m. ceremony. “I’m excited,” Kalscheur said before heading into Kolf Sport Center. “This has been a long time coming.”

Dr. Mom’s fan club

Doctor of Nursing graduate Alyssa Forslin of Greenville had a wonderful cheering section: her husband and two young daughters, who arrived in a double-stroller. Both children were born during the course of Forslin’s program. Her husband said Alyssa did a great job balancing her studies with being a parent and employee at ThedaClark Regional Medical Center. The group planned to go to brunch after the early ceremony. She was among more than 40 who were awarded doctorate degrees.

More family time awaits

Tanya Sanderfoot of Ripon arrived bright and early for the ceremony awarding her Doctor of Education degree. “I’m excited,” she said, adding that it will be a new experience having nights and weekends free of homework. Sanderfoot was accompanied by her husband, two daughters and her best friend. Her dissertation was a case study on perceptions of classroom emotional climate following closure due to quarantine.

Capture the moment

Fond du Lac resident Kaitlyn Schomisch earned an associate of arts and science degree Saturday, as she considered her move to the Oshkosh campus in the fall to study radiology. “In high school, I was doing a job shadow and I saw that career and thought that is what I wanted to do.”

Titan pride

Carmen Steffes of New Holstein said the challenges of the pandemic were felt when her Calculus 2, Chemistry 2 and Physics 2 courses were moved online. Steffes attended UWO Fond du Lac campus to complete her general education requirements. “It was cheaper and I was living at home and working.” Steffes is continuing her education in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. She painted her fingernails “Titan gold” for the ceremony.

Wise words

Brett Spangler, the 11 a.m. student commencement speaker, said today’s graduates are uniquely prepared to embrace life following the pandemic and serve as agents of change. Spangler of Oshkosh graduated magna cum laude with a double major in accounting and information systems. Student speakers at the other three ceremonies included Arielle Tenor of Luxemburg, 8 a.m.; Dakota Swank of Byron, Minnesota, 2 p.m.; and Carter Uslabar of Appleton, 5 p.m.

Quick change artist

Billy Piotrowski was busy Saturday, switching from camera operator at the 8 a.m. ceremony into his commencement gown for the 11 a.m. ceremony and back again to be technical director for the 2 p.m. ceremony. The Radio TV Film major, who hails from Watertown, said he likes UWO because it easy for new students to get involved. “I was calling (announcing) a women’s soccer game three weeks after arriving as a freshman,” he said.  Piotrowski said his ultimate career goal is to work as a professional wrestling commentator or backstage interviewer. In the meantime, he is interviewing for sports-related camera positions in northeast Wisconsin.

Bittersweet moment

Friends Jordan Lemieux of Menomonee Falls and Katherine “Kat” Aasen of Oconomowoc, were feeling bittersweet about ending their days at UWO. “I’m really sad,” Aasen said. “It feels crazy (to be done).” Aasen, who graduates with a degree in human resources, will work for Panaro Group in Pewaukee as a recruiting agent. Lemieux will use her marketing degree in a sales management job for PepsiCo-Frito-Lay in Milwaukee. “It’s amazing to be in person,” Lemieux said. “I’m so glad after these four years to be able to walk across the stage.”

Family’s third college grad

Matthew Vitale of Waukesha was getting last-minute encouragement from his family before the 11 a.m. ceremony. Vitale graduated with a business management degree and said he is “super excited” to be graduating. He said the College of Business at UWO was outstanding, with a “spectacular curriculum” and a great fit for him after he transferred to UWO during his first year. Vitale is the third of his siblings to graduate from UW System schools. He will be working in a sales position for Hershey Co., in Minnesota.

Dog gets some Titan love

Family members who came to support information systems graduate, James Gaffney of Appleton, planned an unconventional afternoon following the 11 a.m. ceremony: a needed weekend project in the backyard. Gaffney and his wife, Katie, ’17, who met at UWO, were married and have a new house in Appleton. The group that included Gaffney’s mom, dad and mother-in-law, planned to install fence posts and fencing to keep their dog safe. Gaffney has a full-time IT job in the Appleton area.

Magnificent mortarboards

Social work graduates, Laura Royston of Sheboygan and Kaitlyn Jones of Burlington, spent some time decorating their mortarboards. “I loved Oshkosh—it’s been my home,” Jones said, adding that she will attend graduate school at UW-Madison in the fall. Royston said she is hoping to work for a county’s child and protective services agency.

Light-hearted masking fun

A mask depicting the face of marketing graduate Sarah Volesky, was getting attention as people saw it being worn by her older sister, Stephanie Volesky. Sarah will be working full-time for Schneider National, in recruitment. Stephanie, who graduated four years ago, works for Kohler Co. The women’s mom, Ann Volesky, said she is very proud of both of her daughters and excited to witness the UWO Commencement ceremony.

Class of 2020, too

Martin Bauer earned a radio TV film degree in May 2020. He was back on campus to walk in the first in-person commencement since the pandemic began and since he finished his UWO career. His mom and dad were able to attend the ceremony and, from behind his class of 2020 mask, he said he was happy to finally get to walk across the commencement stage.

Student organizations represented

There’s no shortage of color when it comes to ceremonial garb worn by graduates. Mateo Denoto, who graduated with a geology degree, wore a brightly colored stole representing the Student Organization of Latinos (SOL). Denoto was involved with the group throughout his college career and said he liked the idea of sporting the stole at commencement. SOL is one of dozens of groups offering decorative accessories for grads.

CSOs rep the PD

Skylar Barth and Davan Hamburg both earned criminal justice degrees Saturday. They each worked as community service officers for the UWO police department—Barth for about six months, Hamberg for two years—and wore UWO PD stoles. They said it was a way to show support for the department that was so helpful to them.

RTF grads a 'closely knit group'

Louie Barlow was among the radio TV film (RTF) graduates walking at Saturday’s 2 p.m. ceremony. He’s leaving an RTF department that’s a “closely knit group,” he said. Proof was the group of seven grads he traveled with to check in before the ceremony. At last week’s RTF banquet, Barlow said with a laugh he was voted by his peers “most likely to have Collaborate Ultra connectivity issues.”

Chancellor's charge

Andy Leavitt, the 11th chancellor in UW Oshkosh’s 150-year history, told graduates at all four ceremonies that they had “earned” the right to celebrate their commencement day, having finished their coursework in the midst of a worldwide pandemic. “Thank you for entrusting your education to UW Oshkosh,” he added.

The Squad: mission accomplished

A group of five nursing students—“The Squad,” as they call themselves—were looking especially festive at the 5 p.m. ceremony. Each had decorated their graduate caps, including one around the theme of the board game Operation. (They’re nursing students. Get it?) Josephine Castro said the group had been friends for about two and a half years and together they “cried their way through nursing school.”  

From Hawaii with love

Brett Tornow, a student-athlete and human services leadership major, earned his degree while wearing an authentic Hawaiian lei. The former linebacker on the Titans football team said his family is from Hawaii and it’s been a tradition for generations for all high school and college graduates to wear a lei at their ceremony. Tornow said his father has the leis shipped from Hawaii. No plastic flowers here.

Next stop: middle school

Jacob Blouin came to commencement sporting a mask from Oshkosh North High School, where he completed his student teaching this spring semester. The secondary education major graduated Saturday with his next move already decided. In the fall he’ll be teaching sixth-grade social studies at Monroe Middle School.

Another achievement for vet

Steve Pepper’s journey to spring commencement began about 15 years ago when he start his college career at what is now the Fond du Lac campus of UWO. He’s since earned associate and bachelor’s degrees and Saturday walked at the 5 p.m. ceremony to receive a master’s degree in educational leadership and policy. Besides continuing his education, Pepper retired from the U.S. Army in 2012 after nearly 30 years of service.  

No cap like this cap

Terrance Manuelito’s graduation cap at the 5 p.m. ceremony was certainly one of a kind—it was hand-beaded over several hours and with lots of love by his mother. The human services leadership major and member of the Lac Courte Oreilles band of Lake Superior Chippewa tribe attended the event with some family and was among the 2020 grads to come to campus to attend the first in-person ceremony since the pandemic. 

6:15 p.m.: That's a wrap

Dozens of UWO staff and volunteers, led by event coordinator Stephanie Werner, helped make the spring 2021 commencement a reality through meticulous planning and implementation efforts. After nearly 12 hours and four ceremonies celebrating hundreds of graduates with loved ones in town, the curtain falls on UWO’s 147th spring commencement.