Tomorrow one of my favorite groups of students ever will take the big step across the stage wearing funny costumes and enter the next phase of their lives. I will miss each and every one of them.
I've had the privilege and honor of teaching every member of this year's Applied Social Science graduating class in at least one course (and sometimes half a dozen different ones), and will be forever grateful to them for bearing with our growing pains (they will be the first class to really go through the program as it was intended and have all been at Stout for as long or longer than the program has been in existence), pushing us to improve, showing us what was possible for our students to achieve, and ultimately, reminding us why we love our jobs.
A few memories I have of each of our graduates (and a few pictures I could scare up)
Jesse Brockman was, I'm pretty sure, in the first morning class in my first semester at Stout, and thus one of the first students I ever saw here. As it turned out, it was impossible not to see him again in the future because he kept taking my classes even though he wasn't in the econ concentration. I'm not sure how I talked him into it, or who his advisor was who kept letting him take econ classes for no good reason, but I'm grateful for it. He has an amazing sense of humor and served as my cheerleader and guinea pig in so many of my courses. Like many people on this list, even when it was a semester that I didn't have him for a class, I always looked forward to him stopping in to catch up and talk about his family, baseball, social science, and life. [Somewhere I also have an awesome video of him playing goalie in a game theory/soccer shootout and will post it as soon as I figure out where it's saved.]
Chris Brink was, at one time, one of my most feared students and part of what I was afraid would be a student mutiny in the Fall '12 APSS 300 class. As it turned out, what he wanted was to push the program ahead, not to drag it down and his suggestions and urging have led us to continue to redesign a better and better program. Chris, I hope, is now one of the program's greatest advocates and a student I look forward to seeing every day in my econ class (particularly this semester in a course where he is now the one saving me from mutiny some days). I have rarely felt better about my life choices than when I heard him reflecting back and talking to younger students on advisement day about how much they could do in the program if they embraced it, and how much he felt he had learned and gained from it. The work he's done in GIS particularly has been great and I have no doubt he will excel in his grad program at U of Minnesota.
Amy Charlson is another amazing and unique student. She has a thirst for knowledge and learning that probably exceeds anyone on this list. I don't think I was ever successful in getting her to like numbers or statistics, but I've had very few students who made such insightful comments and asked such important questions in economics - I only wish she hadn't saved so many of them for office hours so that the rest of class could have benefited from her observations. It always made me feel good about my job when Amy would come in to my office, having obviously been thinking hard about reconciling some sort of capitalist/free-trade theory I had taught her in econ with the real-world market failings in a particular scenario. I don't think I've had another student who was as adept at challenging theories and assumptions without immediately rejecting the premise underlying them and she always seemed to want to take the best aspects of alternative views and try to synthesize them into a better understanding. I learned a lot from her as a result.
Chelsea Culver is a student I've had the pleasure of teaching in several courses, including one of my first honors courses at Stout. She has done so much for the community in her time here, volunteering her energy anywhere and everywhere she was needed and then even applying her research knowledge to try to help better understand volunteering and the motivations for volunteering. Her project on this topic with Fitzie was fantastic, and did our program very proud in the Capital Rotunda. Even in her last moments in the departmetn, she managed to conjure up a picnic table and volunteered that as well for our end of year celebration! :)
Tryst Dodge, I wish I had the opportunity to share more classes with. In APSS 300, he always had a smile on his face, contributed to discussions at all times, and had great comments to add. My strongest memory of him will be to picture him sitting dead center in the room near the front with an attentive look on his face that seemed to say "what are we learning today? teach me!" He did a really interesting research project in that class as well looking at the awareness of consumers to the level of slave labor that goes into products they purchase. I will also remember brainstorming with him about different ways to address that with his survey and being personally taken aback at how important a topic that is, and how little awareness most of us have of it.
Sam Foster is one of the best econ students I've ever had. I think he took every econ course we offer, including about 4 from me. I'm still holding out hope that someday I can talk him into grad school in econ, but he has such an aptitude and curiosity for different subjects that he will do well and improve the world for all of us in any field he goes into. When he told me he wanted to survey farmers for his research project, internally I groaned because I didn't think he could do it - it's such a difficult population to survey that I was worried he would end up with no data. Of course, he proved me wrong and gathered an amazing data set and then produced an amazing research project with it. If there's one thing I've learned from many of the students on this list, it's that I should worry less about our majors achieving things they are passionate about learning and understanding because they all find a way to do it. Sam was no exception. My other favorite thing about Sam is his complete calm and total unflappability - I never saw him down about anything (other than when his Mustang got rear-ended, but even then "Sam Foster" upset is most people's "vending machine is out of my soda-flavor" upset.) :)
Chris Fox is a student that has been a constant fixture in our department since I've been here. He seems to be everywhere and has done so much for the department, the campus, and the community with his service work and research. My memory of Chris though, will be that he wrote the best ever (and only) "Economics of Star Wars" paper in my intro econ course. It's been at least 2 years now since I've read it and I still remember the importance of George Lucas retaining the toy rights in the overall scheme of the Star Wars economy. I think this was before the $4 Billion sale to Disney, so I'm going to request that Chris goes back and writes a sequel paper on "The Economics Strikes Back" to incorporate these new developments.
Xanthi Gerasimo ... this one is especially hard for me to write. I seemed to get something in my eye a bit last night at the Honors College ceremony to bestow her "Honors Stole" because... of all of these amazing students on this list, she is the one that it's hardest to imagine coming to work every day and not seeing in the hallways. Before I had any idea who she was my first year here at Stout, I could tell that she was the heart and soul of the group because she just had a presence about her that made you feel like you'd always known her. She has always felt more like a peer and colleague to me than a student and has been a confidant to me many times, offering advice on teaching, improving the program, and helping me think through my choice to move into the Honors College part-time. Like Sam, she is another student who accomplished a seemingly impossible research task in data collection by getting over 1200 rugby players to respond to a survey, and has done amazing things academically. In sports, she has been a captain and Academic All American in rugby as well as a karate teacher and countless other athletic endeavors. In service and leadership she does it all as well and made us proud winning the Samuel Wood Medallion this year, and being a friend and mentor and tutor to her peers. She is a true renaissance woman. But she has also been one of the best friends I've had as a student and for that I will miss her terribly when she's gone.
Lilli Gray I will remember for several things, the first of which is this picture in the most recent issue of StoutQuest and that was taken at Nels' Birchwood event - Lilli always has an amazing smile, but also one with a little extra twinkle in it that makes you feel like she knows more than you do about something and that she's one step ahead of you :) I am also super-proud of both Lilli and Jesse Vail who, in true UW-Stout applied fashion, took what they learned in my APSS class and turned it into an internship in the housing office analyzing their quantitative data. Their project looking at the effect of substance-free housing floors was fantastic and had some really important findings in it that can actually be influential to policy on campus for years to come.
Speaking of Jesse Vail, I can't believe I left you off the original list! Sorry - that was not a lack of being memorable, believe me :) It was an incomplete graduation list. I will think of Jesse for also having taken more econ than he needed to and joining me in game theory and other courses, long board in tow. He and Lilli really did amazing work on their project and Jesse really showed an aptitude for stats and analysis. He has an infectious personality and is going to do amazing things with his life. I wish him all the best!
Paul Klotz was another student I dearly wish I'd had the pleasure of teaching in more courses. He is a relentlessly cheerful guy, seems to have a heart of gold, and is someone I've only begun to get to know a little better recently outside of class and over a beer at the waterfront, etc. Paul strikes me as a contender for the Most Interesting Man in the World award for this year's class as well as having the distinction of being the "student I most wish I'd gotten to know better while I had the chance." :(
Jon Knapp, on the other hand, is a student that I've been lucky enough to spend a lot of time with this year and hope to count as one of my friends for years to come. We've shared some ups and downs this semester with days of crazy chaos as well as very fun working lunches and trips to giant guitar stores (pretty big bolts, Jon!). I was incredibly proud watching him (and Danny) diligently prepare their research presentation for weeks, practicing and refining things, and then absolutely nail the delivery at NCUR. His dedication to helping push the APSS program forward and his interest in research and studies to make the world a better place are an inspiration. I never feel like I am cool enough to be hanging out with Jon Knapp. I have name-dropped countless stories to him about Eddie Van Halen, Marc Ford, Rich Robinson, Rick Richards, Warren Haynes, and who knows how many other assorted rock stars, and I still do not feel cool enough to be hanging out with Jon Knapp. I know he will make an amazing dad in a few short months, and there is a lucky little boy or girl who is about to hit the parent lottery jackpot.
Tony Kruempel is a student who feels like he has been with me from the start. I think he was in my only ever ECON 210 course my first semester at Stout, as well as at least 3 other courses in the years since. It's been a pleasure to watch him develop as a student from freshman year until now and I am excited that he has found a career path that I think he will be AMAZING at. For four years I've looked forward to Tony poking his head in the door every so often to say hi and check in and I hope he'll stop back in and continue to do it in the future, especially next year as he continues into a Masters' program here.
Thomas Scholle-Malone, I also only got to teach in one course last year but he impressed me with his quiet confidence and with his really exceptional writing skills. He wrote a paper looking at the social networks and impact of African-American college athletes in the Civil Rights era that was really phenomenal and incorporated a neat mix of quantitative, qualitative, and historical aspects. Plus, he shot almost 50% from the field on the basketball team the last two years, which is pretty cool by any standard!
And then last but not least, there is Alyssa Quilling, a student with the most inverted Humbleness : Awesomeness ratio of anyone, ever. Alyssa is the first student I ever had get more than 100% in my econ class, and also the student who was most grateful and thankful for a recommendation letter. She is the student I absolutely had to have as a tutor for the SPSS portion of the 300 course this year because, not only did she understand everything in class, she always asked the *next* question about how to apply it or how to make it better and had the heart to want to see her classmates learn it as well as she had. I'm completely positive that no matter what career path she decided she liked ... Astrophysicist, Cancer curer, Iron Chef, Cosmonaut, President of the World, ... (or sociologist?!?!?), she would be a huge success. Such a success, in fact, that even Jon Knapp in the picture above is holding an Alyssa Quilling award. I'm pretty sure that Wonder Woman wears Alyssa Quilling t-shirts (although she may alternate Alyssa and Xanthi days depending on the laundry schedule), so perhaps this is appropriate anyway.
...And then there are all my non-APSS students that came in this week to say goodbye and who are graduating...some econ minors, some just amazing students from all across campus. I'm sure I'll remember more tomorrow when I see then walk across the stage and reserve the right to add to this list, but the ones I've talked to in the last couple of days include Kris Ikeler, an honors student who took two econ classes from me despite them basically not counting for anything towards his major. He completely dominated game theory last semester and made my heart grow three sizes when I saw him and a few other students who didn't need to take the course in that class on the first day. Chris Hein has taken every course I teach other than APSS, been with me since the start, and was swept along by inertia into becoming an econ minor. He may not always turn everything in on time, but when it's done, it's done well and with a smile. Josie Salzman is one of my favorite econ minors ever - she survived a semester with me, 8 months pregnant and with kidney stones for God's sake! She also showed me the greatest moment of bravery of any student I've ever had last semester when she went to take her final exam in the face of amazing personal struggle. I cried for her that day and will cry again with pride tomorrow when I see her walk across the stage. And then there is Patrick Kavanagh who came to say goodbye to me today. He was one of the 'ones who got away' - a student I always wished would have been an econ major or minor but who I cherished my time with and was always happy to see stop back in to say hello. He's going to Davenport, IA next year and will be three hours away from his girlfriend who I also had the pleasure of teaching. I wish them all the best in the world and would tell them that my wife and I survived one year 500 miles apart and another 6000 miles apart, so I think they'll be ok.
This class of students that I've loved so much is graduating into a world much more troubled than the one I graduated into 13 years ago. As a member of the "Millennium" class of 2000, having survived Y2K and riding the boom of the 90's dot.com wave and a decade of virtual world peace, it seemed life was going to be easy for us. My commencement speech was given by the CEO of Cisco Systems, a dot.com success story and father of one of my classmates (who, incidentally, I think I bought beer for at the Super Kmart the first night Freshman year with a fake ID, and later saw pay quite a hefty parking ticket bill in front of me in line as we closed our accounts prior to graduation ... I had a rather sizable 'unregistered party' fine to pay myself, but that's a story for another day...). I left graduation rather foolishly expecting life to be handed to me on a platter.
This year's class enters a world of terrorism, uncertain economics, environmental chaos, and the most dysfunctional and unpleasant politics in my lifetime. But my message of hope to them is that, no matter how bad the world gets, each spring I see a new class, even better than the last, going out to save the world for the rest of us. Winter is the time of discontent and it has been long indeed the last few years. But spring is here, and for me, spring symbolizes graduation, when I see the very best and brightest of humanity going out to prove themselves and make the world a better place. I love each and every one of them and intend to cry unabashedly tomorrow with pride as I watch them leave the nest.