A long road to graduation

A+long+road+to+graduation

Dan Pomykalski

Dec. 11, 2013

Student speaker to share story with graduating class

By Michael Riley

Michael Mifflin had to make a decision.

After a less than ideal freshman year, he found himself on academic probation standing at a crossroads; to leave the university to explore other options, or work toward a degree.

He decided to stay at UW-Whitewater and pursue a higher education.

That decision was the turning point, and led Mifflin to being selected for the 2013 fall commencement speaker.

“I do not regret my experience,” Mifflin said.  “I’m appreciative because, without it, I wouldn’t have realized the value of hard work to one’s education.”

Mifflin said has been able to raise his grade point average every semester since his freshman year, and his proudest moment as an undergraduate was making the dean’s list his senior year.

“It was the most accomplished feeling I had at Whitewater,” he said.  “It just showed how far I had come.”

 

Growing as an RA

Mifflin turned to his resident assistant Wolfgang Jacobson for support during his academic struggles.  Jacobson told him how important college was and how much he wanted to see Mifflin succeed.

After receiving similar support from his complex director, Mifflin said he decided he wanted to apply to become an RA in Fall 2010.

He was hired to replace an RA who had left in the middle of the semester in Wellers Hall.

“This was my biggest hurdle,” he said.  “I was only 19, and I was scared.  Just like my GPA, I had to make a decision.  Without any training or experience, I dedicated myself to my residents.”

For the next five semesters of his college career, Mifflin was an RA, and he said it was the foundation that lead him to other involvement on campus.

“I wanted to share my experience with my residents,” he said.  “I wanted to be someone who can help them achieve their goals, not just someone who yells at them when they break the rules.”

Mifflin said he remembers one of his residents, Tyler Filipiak, told him he should be a life coach because he inspired him.  Mifflin said he also remembers another resident telling him he was like the floor’s older bother.

“The biggest thing I learned from being an RA is how much you can mean to somebody,” he said.  “Whether you’re a shoulder to cry on, asked to give advice or have a tough conversation, or just be there to ask a resident how they are doing.  For incoming freshmen, you might be the only person they have to talk to in the first two weeks.”

Mifflin said in his last few semesters he no longer has had the mindset of what people can do for him, but rather how he can help them accomplish their goals.

 

Evolving as a leader

Continuing his involvement in ResLife, Mifflin was accepted by the National Residence Hall Honorarium and became the vice president only a few days later.

Around the same time, he was hired to be a Warhawk Ambassador.

Mifflin said this role removed him from his comfort zone as an RA, and he was now the face of the university.  He said his favorite memory was working an Alumni tent at the 2012 Homecoming, where he met a lady who was the Homecoming queen in 1950.

Almost more than two years since almost deciding to leave the university, Mifflin said he was representing UW-Whitewater in ways that he never could have imagined.

“I trusted my support system, believed in myself and kept pursuing what I love to do,” he said.  “Looking back, if I had not stayed in Whitewater, I would have no clue what kind of person I would be or what I would be doing.”

Paige Muehlenkamp who was on the same freshman floor and a fellow RA with Mifflin said they have watched each other grow during their time spent together at UW-Whitewater.

“Mike had a difficult transition to college like most first year students do,” Muehlenkamp said.  “He was not exactly sure what he wanted to do in life and was not driven to do well academically.  The difference with Mike is that he adjusted after his first semester and hit the ground running.”

 

Fulfilling a dream

The exact moment the Hawk Squad ran out to greet the incoming freshman class during Planet Purple orientation, Mifflin turned to his mother and said I want to do that.

“Hawk Squad was the one position I had wanted my entire college career,” he said.

As graduation loomed at semester, Mifflin said he finally met the GPA requirements and he said he knew he would only have one opportunity to apply and be accepted.

“I remember standing in the Career and Leadership Development office when I opened the letter,” he said.  “It said congratulations, we would like to offer you a position on Hawk Squad.  I had to sit down because I had tears of happiness running down my face.”

Jodi Straka, who is a former Hawk Squad member, was the first person Mifflin saw after he found out the news.

“I ran up to her, gave her a big hug and whispered in her ear that I got it,” he said.  “After that, I immediately called my parents and told them.  They knew how much it meant to me.”

Before Mifflin’s last Planet Purple and final experience as a Hawk Squad member, he took a quick moment to reflect on how far he has come.

“I opened the door of the Hamilton Room, and I looked at the exact chair I was sitting in with my mom a few years ago,” he said through teary eyes.  “It was amazing.”

 

Pursuing vision of excellence   

Mifflin said if he ever write a book or became a motivational speaker his tagline would be to always pursue your own vision of excellence.

During his speech, he said he will focus on this but also working on the graduates vision of the future.

“Even though I don’t know everyone’s story, we all have worked through some sort of struggle to get where we are,” he said.  “We all deserved this honor, and I am honored to speak and celebrate this achievement in front of my class.”

Mifflin will have a fulltime position in Career and Leadership Development but will continue to pursue higher education degree in student affairs at graduate school.

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