By Angela McManaman
The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee has hosted more than 100 graduation ceremonies, but each one is remarkable because of the incredible – and incredibly diverse – experiences, educational accomplishments and career plans that shape the lives of new UWM graduates.
So just one week before Christmas, on Dec. 18, 2016, more than 2,200 walked across the commencement stage to mark the end of their student career and the beginning of an exciting new chapter: life as a college graduate.
“You are prepared for life’s opportunities and challenges and to confidently walk through open doors that you didn’t expect,” UWM Chancellor Mark Mone told the audience. “That is the power of higher education. Options. Possibilities. Lifelong learning and personal growth.”
The opportunity to make an impact on her profession, her students and patients is what inspired nurse midwife and UWM clinical nursing instructor LuVerda Sayles Martin. She was awarded a doctorate in nursing practice on Dec. 18.
“When you have a career that is rewarding and you are able to give back to other people, that is priceless,” Dr. Sayles Martin said.
Life took her down the long road to a PhD. She had two daughters while in college, then studied and persevered through a year of surgery and chemotherapy to treat breast cancer. This 13-year journey is even more meaningful because of the impact she hopes to make: “I did not see a lot of women of color who were in the nursing discipline.”
Fellow 2016 graduate Taylor Layton was born in Paraguay, raised an American citizen, educated at the U.S. Naval Academy and served in the Army. As a history major at UWM, Layton found his professional passion during an archaeology internship in Italy. He’s now moving to Washington, D.C. to work as marketing director of the Restoring Ancient Stabiae Foundation. Stabiae and its more famous neighbor, Pompeii, were buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. During his first visit there, Layton learned about technological advances in historic preservation that allowed him to 3-D scan delicate ancient artifacts from the site.
“It’s a visual form of documentation (in archaeology), and it kind of changes the game in the sense that once it becomes digitized,” Layton said, “you can send that file all over the world.”
Roman antiquity is just one of his passions. Layton also played professional soccer for the Milwaukee Wave, where many of his teammates were UWM alums and where he found camaraderie: “[Soccer] is not really about the touches on the ball, but the guys you get to play with.”
Central America inspired civil engineering graduate Cassandra Bence, who made three trips to Guatemala while serving as a member, and eventually as president, of Engineers Without Borders at UWM.
Planning and fundraising in Milwaukee, followed by construction and collaboration between the UWM student engineers and their host village, led to an amazing moment: Clean water started to flow in a village that once didn’t have any.
Turning the taps and drinking the water was an unforgettable experience for Bence. “To know that all your calculations, all the time you dedicated, staying up until 3 in the morning … brought water to someone’s house who had never seen running, potable water before – it’s one of the coolest experiences,” she said.
“I’m beyond happy with the journey that I’ve taken with UWM and Engineers Without Borders. It’s changed my life. It’s changed my outlook on life.”
It’s also changed life in the village. Residents there can rededicate the time they once spent gathering and transporting water to farming, education and creating products they can sell.
Sayles Martin, Layton and Bence are just three of the many remarkable success stories that began an important new chapter on the UWM graduation stage this winter.
“We hope that you will tell your stories often and with pride,” Mone told the graduates, “telling the world about this momentous day in your life.”