Commencement speaker prompts graduates to think of ‘little moments’

Biology+major+Lauren+Kats+holds+a+beaker+in+an+Upham+Hall+chemistry+lab%2C+where+she+did+her+work+as+an+undergraduate+researcher.+Kats+is+set+to+speak+at+UW-Whitewater%E2%80%99s+undergraduate+commencement+on+May+14.+Commencement+will+be+divided+between+undergraduate+and+graduate+degrees.+Photo+by+Kimberly+Wethal.
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Commencement speaker prompts graduates to think of ‘little moments’

Biology major Lauren Kats holds a beaker in an Upham Hall chemistry lab, where she did her work as an undergraduate researcher. Kats is set to speak at UW-Whitewater’s undergraduate commencement on May 14. Commencement will be divided between undergraduate and graduate degrees. Photo by Kimberly Wethal.

Biology major Lauren Kats holds a beaker in an Upham Hall chemistry lab, where she did her work as an undergraduate researcher. Kats is set to speak at UW-Whitewater’s undergraduate commencement on May 14. Commencement will be divided between undergraduate and graduate degrees. Photo by Kimberly Wethal.

Biology major Lauren Kats holds a beaker in an Upham Hall chemistry lab, where she did her work as an undergraduate researcher. Kats is set to speak at UW-Whitewater’s undergraduate commencement on May 14. Commencement will be divided between undergraduate and graduate degrees. Photo by Kimberly Wethal.

Biology major Lauren Kats holds a beaker in an Upham Hall chemistry lab, where she did her work as an undergraduate researcher. Kats is set to speak at UW-Whitewater’s undergraduate commencement on May 14. Commencement will be divided between undergraduate and graduate degrees. Photo by Kimberly Wethal.

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By Kimberly Wethal

May 4, 2016

Four years ago, UW-Whitewater commencement speaker Lauren Kats sent in her housing payment check to Northern Illinois University and was ready to attend as a part of the class of 2016.

At that point, UW-W wasn’t even on her radar – until one of her mother’s coworkers, the parent of a then-Warhawk – asked if she had considered attending the Wisconsin college.

Kats hadn’t, so the Illinois-native crossed state lines for a tour of the campus.

“I kind of knew, absolutely in that moment, that I wanted to go here, and that I didn’t want to go to NIU,” Kats said. “It’s not that far from home, and it’s so much better than where I would have been.”

She needed a refund for her original student housing payment. She hasn’t regretted her decision since.

UW-W will hold two commencement ceremonies on May 14 in the Williams Center Kachel Fieldhouse. The ceremony for the undergraduate degree ceremony will begin at 10 a.m., with graduate students receiving their degrees at 3 p.m. the same day.

Kats will be the speaker for the undergraduate ceremony, and will be joined by keynote speaker 1973 alumnus Quint Studer, who works as an entrepreneur and business owner in the healthcare field.

Coming from a high school career where she was a “quiet, only academics” kind of student, Kats’ motto walking into her freshman year at UW-W became “new college, new me.”

With her end goal both then and now being dental school, she came to campus looking to join activities to help propel her there.

Kats received a “jump start” in her college career during the annual ULEAD program.

As the years went by, she found herself in the chemistry undergraduate research labs, working on the executive board of Whitewater Student Government, serving as a learning assistant for the Student Success Center, getting involved in the Warhawk Ambassador and ULEAD programs and becoming a  Student Segregated Fees Allocation Committee member.

“During Lauren’s time as a Warhawk Ambassador, she has been nothing but friendly and positive to fellow ambassadors and to those she was interacting with at events,” Leadership Adviser for Career and Leadership Development Sarah Suter said in an email to the Royal Purple. “I always felt very confident in Lauren to represent the student body at events and be a voice for what students wish to see from their university.”

From that first tour around campus, and more personalized glance at Upham Hall, thanks to biology instructor George Clokey, to seeing all of the equipment and research potential, Kats knew the deal was “sealed.”

“It was very obvious that I’d get a more hands-on experience here,” Kats said. “I knew in my undergraduate degree, before I would go for a graduate [degree], I would do something instrumental with my education, and I wasn’t going to be just a number here.”

This fall, Kats will be moving on to a graduate program at Midwestern University in Arizona, a healthcare institution. She says it’s her involvement that grabbed the attention of the admissions staff.

“I don’t think grad schools look at me as just a number either now,” Kats said. “I think my involvement has helped me stand out.”

Making a mark

Clokey is one of the standard Upham Hall tour guides when students drop by at the end of their campus tours.

“I see a lot of freshman, and I’ll be honest, she was just another freshman,” Clokey said.

It wasn’t until Kats started demonstrating her interest in her biology courses and undergraduate research that she became more than just the freshman she was on her tour,  Clokey said.

“She took to research like a duck to water,” Clokey said. “She really did well in it. She was very interested in her project. Some students take [research] because they have to take it to graduate. She took it, and she stayed with it.”

Kats started undergraduate research at the end of her sophomore year, with chemistry associate professor Paul House. He helped her take on a project left behind by a then-graduating senior about the impact of the chemicals inside pharmaceutical drugs on the environment.

“This experience she’s had of deeply learning one topic is really important when you go to graduate school, and you have a deeply engaged [field] of study,” House said.

Because of her dedication to her undergraduate research and the degree she’ll be receiving next weekend, Clokey said she’s one of their students who will “make a mark” wherever they go.

“She’s one of our best, top students we’ve produced in the biology department,” Clokey said. “I can’t think of a better person to represent this university at graduation … she’s the consummate student, and I think she’ll make a name for herself. It’ll show that Whitewater can turn out students like Lauren.”

Someone to look up to

Kats has been writing her commencement speech since last Thanksgiving.

“I really wanted to give a message that would mean something, not just something put together really quick for an application,” Kats said. “I wanted to get ideas way [ahead of] time. It’s been something I’ve been working on for a while.”

The desire to speak before her peers developed while listening to the commencement speaker at her high school graduation ceremony.

She took notice of how inspirational the speaker was, and looks to be viewed in a similar light for others.

“To me, and to the rest of our graduating class, he was somebody to look up to,” Kats said. “From the moment I stepped onto campus and realized what involvement was, and how to help people, that’s been something that I wanted to do … when I think of his speech and how he was perceived, I want to be somebody people can go to for help, and that I can be an inspiration to other people.”

Kats looks to take a more inspirational tone with her speech, making note of things she’d hear in order to recall them when it came time to decide on her speech’s overarching theme.

“It’s a lot of inspiration, but also a lot around the fact that I want them to kind of think of the little things that have happened to them over their years here, however long,” she said. “I want them to leave emulating what was impactful to them.”