A grand salute: Student commencement speaker commissioned after graduation

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May 6th, 2015
By Alexandria Zamecnik

At the same time one chapter ends in Raechel Liska’s life, another one begins.

Liska, the Spring 2015 student commencement speaker, will spend graduation day addressing the new class of graduates about her time at UW-Whitewater and then immediately go to be commissioned as a Chemical Officer in the United States Army National Guard.

“It’s going to be a long day,” Liska said while laughing.

This isn’t the first busy day the graduating senior has had.

Liska, the New Berlin native, currently serves as the battalion commander for the Army Reserve Officer Training Corps at UW-Whitewater, volunteers for the City of Whitewater Fire & Rescue Squad, is a certified EMT and all while maintaining a 4.0 GPA.

“She is so well involved and engaged in campus,” said Leda Nath academic advisor to Liska. “She is outstanding. It’s pretty unbelievable the amount of engagement she has on campus while simultaneously keeping a perfect score in all of her classes.”

But the involvement and engagement didn’t just come to Liska over night. Her father, Jim, served in the army reserves and both of her parents, grandfather and half brother were either volunteer or full-time firefighters.

“I definitely haven’t fallen far from the tree,” Liska said. “I’m carrying on my parents legacy.”

In fact, that legacy was what pushed Liska to consider becoming EMT certified.

“I was actually at a color guard event with the ROTC at a football game and I saw an ambulance sitting at the football game like they usually do, on standby, incase of injuries,” Liska said. “It took me back to being a kid, hanging out at the fire station with my parents. In that moment, I realized how much I missed it. I missed the atmosphere, the principle of serving the community.”

Liska walked right up to the ambulance and asked how she could join the rescue squad. She took a class, submitted an application and went through the process. By that summer, she had her EMT Basic License.

The newly certified EMT said she was lucky enough to be accepted to run with the Whitewater Rescue Squad.

Although Liska said she loves being able to help the Whitewater community because they have helped her so much, that’s not her only favorite part of the job.
“I just love being able to do something that I know is worth doing,” Liska said. “I’ve seen it be worth doing since I was a young kid. I’ve seen the benefits of it since I was young and watching my parents do it and now I get the privilege of doing the same amount of good that they did. It’s so rewarding.”

Nath recalls a time where Liska was called in to help with a professor.

“She came for another faculty member, who had some heart troubles and I remember she was part of that EMT team,” Nath said. “She cared for him and helped him get on his gurney… I remember seeing her in action and she was in a different role. I thought, ‘gosh, she’s not a student right now. She’s tending to a patient.’”

Liska said it’s an odd experience responding to faculty on campus.

“Its kind of strange at first, but then you really think about it, and it’s so amazing and incredible to me that you can have a community that’s so interwoven that you have actual students that are responding to saving professors,” Liska said. “It’s a much different way than the professors are able to help the students. That’s pretty cool and I don’t think there’s a lot of communities out there like Whitewater.”

The community is one reason Liska chose UW-Whitewater even after being offered a spot at the prestigious United States Military Academy at West Point, where she received two congressional nominations from former senator Herb Kohl and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis.

“There are a couple reasons,” Liska said. “I’ve always been a big homebody and my family is really important to me. I wanted to stay close enough for where I could still attend family events on a regular basis and I didn’t want to miss monumental events in my siblings lives.”

Liska said she was also able to get the best of both worlds after she was offered a scholarship at UW-W that allowed her to still pursue a military career. She doesn’t regret her decision because she has been offered incredible opportunities at UW-W like traveling to Vietnam for The Cultural Understanding & Language Proficiency Program through ROTC.

She decided on Vietnam from a large list of destinations because she wanted to immerse herself in a new culture while connecting to her grandfather who fought in the Vietnam War.

“We worked with the Vietnamese People’s Army and we taught them English,” Liska said. “That was our mission. So we spent about six hours a day in a classroom with them working on English, basic sentence structure, vocabulary. But then they really let us into their culture.”

Even though teaching English to the Vietnamese was really eye opening for Liska, she felt a stronger connection to her grandpa.

“I was proud and happy to report home to him about the status of Vietnam and how Americans were viewed over there,” Liska said. “Most of the people we interacted with seemed to enjoy Americans. It was just being able to connect with my grandpa a little bit and share some common history between the two of us.”

Opportunities like going to Vietnam are what pushed Liska through college and she would recommend that every freshman take advantage of those opportunities.

“If someone asks you if you want to try something new, just jump right in,” Liska said. “I would offer that advice to freshmen with the added tip, don’t be afraid to reach out to others.”

The successful commencement speaker recognized that she couldn’t have done this alone.

“There’s a huge support system behind me,” Liska said. “I’m thankful for everyone and anyone who has helped me in the slightest. They are the ones that got me here and made me into the person I am. And I think the best way I can repay them is to be that person for someone else and other people.”

For Raechel Liska, the work is never done. After graduation, she intends to pursue two more degrees, a paramedic license and a Masters in Public Health from the Medical College of Wisconsin, where she plans to practice the area of preventive medicine.

“I don’t think she’s finished,” Nath said. “She’s not even started. She hasn’t even begun.”

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