UW-W celebrates 150th graduating class at winter commencement

Virtual ceremony to be held at 1 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 19


UW-Whitewater at Rock County Student Speaker for Winter 2020 Graduation Jaclyn Wolf

Katie Childs, Assistant News Editor

This year the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater commemorates the graduation of 2,942 graduates who earned degrees in May, August and December of 2020. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the ceremony will be a combined event featuring student speakers Jaclyn Wolf, Brian Martinez and Alex Osterman at the winter 2020 graduation.

Wolf, representing the Rock County campus, was born in Milwaukee and then moved to Janesville at age seven. She will be graduating in December with an Associates of Arts and Sciences degree. 

Wolf decided to pursue the possibility of speaking at graduation out of a desire to let her peers know they are not alone in their academic journey and that they belong within the Whitewater and Rock County family.

“For some of us, we are first generation college students, and the importance and excitement of that is something worth relating to the student body,” Wolf said. “With that in mind, challenges do arise because we may not have the support for homework and financial needs. I thought with my speech I might be able to impact someone’s life or make a connection with someone that could change both of our lives.”

Wolf shared that she believes her application stood out because she is a dedicated and hard-working student, as well as an invested friend. She has made an effort to build relationships with students and faculty during her time at UW-W Rock County, because people, to her, matter above all else.

As this term comes to an end, so does Wolf’s time at Rock County, and this is bittersweet for her.

“Student Speaker Brian Martinez graduated in the spring of 2020 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science.”

“I have loved my time at the Rock Campus and am sad to leave. I am sad to leave those people behind that I have come to know more and understand,” she said. “But on the other hand, I am happy to be moving forward in my career. Moving on means I have accomplished my goal: an associates degree.”

Wolf brims over with inspirational positivity. Even though she had to spend the last semester of her studies almost completely online, she said she wouldn’t have had it any other way. To her, the problems faced by faculty and students, while challenging and frustrating at times, have paved the way for a new educational skill set.

“I wouldn’t change anything about this semester as tough as it has been, because it will help us solve more problems down the road,” Wolf said. “And, everyone has been open to trying to find ways to help us get the best education that we deserve.”

Wolf will be joined on graduation day by Brian Martinez from Mount Pleasant, Wisconsin who graduated with a degree in Political Science and a Legal Studies Emphasis last spring. Since the spring ceremony was canceled, he was invited to speak this winter instead. 

Martinez transferred to UW-W from UW-Parkside. Though he was here for only two years, his heavy involvement across campus made his time here feel much longer. From being a mentor at the First Year Experience office to being a member of Whitewater Student Government and working closely with the campus state legislature as well as other extracurriculars, Martinez was a true renaissance Warhawk. 

“It was at Whitewater that I really learned about the potential I had in me. Whitewater showed me who I was and who I was capable of being. It was here that I was able to grow and become who I wanted to be,” he said. 

Martinez wanted to be a student speaker because he believes in the power of being a voice for his peers. 

“I really wanted to convey my time at Whitewater to the student body, and what a better way to do that then to speak to the whole graduating class? I wanted to show how Whitewater has affected me in a positive way, and how I’ve grown while at the university,” said Martinez.

As for finishing his undergraduate degree in a pandemic, Martinez was quick to admit it wasn’t easy. He credits his success to flexible professors, access to technology and a supportive family.

“I was fortunate enough to have the technology, to have the means, to be able to go home and be around family,” he said. “And I tip my hat off to faculty and university officials who were doing the best they could given the situation.”

For the past six months, Martinez has been working on voting promotion for the 2020 election. He plans on returning to Wisconsin soon to plan his next steps. 

The third student speaker Alex Ostermann is from Cedarburg, Wisconsin and graduated in the spring with a Bachelor’s of Business Administration degree. Osterman was the Interfraternity Council President, a Warhawk Ambassador, Student Body President, and the homecoming king in 2018. He was involved in student organizations and efforts across the board. 

Ostermann was not available for comment. 

The student organization UW-W Empower conducts a student speaker competition for each commencement ceremony. Two applicants are selected from UW-Whitewater to speak, and one student from the Rock County campus is selected as well. 

Entry into the competition begins by nomination from a college dean or through an independent online application on behalf of an interested student. A letter of recommendation from a faculty member is also required for consideration, as is an interview with a panel of students, faculty and staff. 

“When I applied last spring, BC (Before Corona), the judges had me give my application speech in-person. They measured my speaking, fluidity, eye contact – that sort of thing. And obviously the content as well,” said Martinez. 

But as the semester progressed and learning moved online, the application process did, too. 

“You needed to fill out the form and submit a short 2-minute video of what your speech would be like,” said Wolf. “My adviser urged me to apply.”

The graduation ceremony will be live-streamed in a virtual celebration Saturday, Dec. 19 at 1 p.m. Central Time. Tune in to hear what UW-Whitewater means to these graduates, and to watch the class of 2020 receive the recognition that will mark the end of their undergraduate career amidst a global pandemic. Visit the commencement website for more information.

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