UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN River Falls
The book had a dark blue cover, obviously old. The cover bore the embossed words, The Meletean, and the year 1920. I was at our recent Homecoming-related event for alumni in Stillwater and this edition of our institutional yearbook, I was told, was coming to me from Anne Adams Keller, Class of 1961. The 1920 Meletean was dedicated to Normal School teacher and student adviser Mary McMillan, the namesake of our McMillan Hall, and the yearbook was filled with names and pictures of the students who would become alumni of the Normal School. This unique gift, and the other 2018 Homecoming events, caused me to reflect on the importance of our university’s alumni.
Every university has some accomplished alumni. At River Falls, we are proud that among our over 56,000 graduates is an astronaut (Dan Brandenstein, ‘65), a distinguished researcher and former chair of the Nobel Committee for Physiology or Medicine (Juleen Zierath, ‘84), and a current CEO of a Fortune 500 company (Brad Hewitt, ‘82). Among our more recent graduates, Lisa Ecker (’17) provides a great example of early career success. While individual success stories are important, it is the widespread, deep and uncommon commitment of UWRF alumni that has struck me in my role as chancellor over the past ten years. Our alumni love the place and the people. They come back. They give back. At Homecoming, over 300 alumni and friends gathered in the Don Page Arena to celebrate the life and impact of longtime football coach Mike Farley. There were moving stories shared of how Coach Farley taught life lessons, as much as coached football. Yesterday, our annual scholarship event recognized the generosity of our alumni in supporting current students. During our recent Rising to Distinction fundraising campaign, 5,570 alumni made a gift.
What can explain such a strong commitment among UW-River Falls alumni? While it would take a major research study to truly answer that, my conversations with UWRF alumni tell me there are two major reasons for their loyalty. First, the institution has always had a culture of caring, exemplified by the way faculty and staff mentor and support students. Second, over the years, many of our students have come from modest backgrounds, and they especially value the way the university embraces them, provides them opportunity and ultimately changes their lives.
At each commencement ceremony, I briefly address the graduates. I always say to them: You are a Falcon forever, and you carry with you the spirit and great promise of this university. Buildings, faculty, staff and administrators are important but temporary. We are but stewards of the university. It is the alumni, and their impact, that represent the on-going legacy of UW-River Falls, and I am grateful to the many UWRF alumni who give of their time, talent and treasure to carry on that legacy.