The last two school years have been anything but normal. A global pandemic upended schools, taking learning from the classroom into students' homes. All the while, the country has grappled with deep-rooted racism, climate change, debates over abortion access, gun control and rights for trans students — leading to widespread student activism. Politics infiltrated schools and school boards at a pace not seen in decades, and yet students' hopes for the future are as strong as ever.
As the school year draws to a close, Wisconsin Public Radio is celebrating graduation season — and the future — by featuring stories from new graduates around the state in their own words.
'I'm hopefully paving a path for younger people'
Mengcha Moua, 22, New Richmond
Mengcha Moua isn't interested in taking the easy route after graduating with an English major from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. For him, that means pursuing a master's degree in cinema studies at the University of Washington in Seattle, which could lead to a career as a university professor.
Listen to Mengcha Moua here.
My name is Mengcha Moua and today I am graduating from UW-Eau Claire.
It feels very good to be coming out of it and doing this accomplishment and being able to walk on stage and be with all my other peers, as well as being without masks and being able to see everyone's happy faces.
After college, I will be going to the University of Washington in Seattle to pursue a master's degree in cinema studies.
For me, the future looks like pursuing what you're happy and passionate about. I think we kind of live in a world where people are going to go on the easy route instead of pursuing what they really want to pursue. Pursuing my graduate degree and cinema studies, I'm hopefully paving a path for younger people to also pursue their passions and things that they feel happy about.
'I dream of a world that is free of disparity'
Giselle Monette, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe, recently graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a bachelor’s degree in community and environmental sociology. While in school, she helped lead Native student groups like Wunk Sheek and Alpha Pi Omega, and played a role in getting the university to remove the Chamberlin Rock. Her dreams for the future are even bigger.
Listen to Giselle Monette here.
My name is Giselle Monette. I am a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe. I'm 23 years old, and I am graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Short term, my goal is to hang out. College was really hard. Wisconsin is a difficult school. So I really want to just read some good books and do kind of monotonous things for a while until I challenge myself again.
I’m really interested in health and creating ways to bring in healthy food systems to Native communities.
I really hope for a world where all of my brown and Black relatives, especially, can achieve the levels of health, wealth and well-being that they desire.
I dream of a world that is free of disparity, where people can exist as themselves in the way that they would like to without judgment and hatred and unjust regulation of their being and their bodies and their existence.
'I can impact society by enabling new technologies'
William Kunkel, 24, Jim Falls
Struggling with dyslexia in elementary and high school left William Kunkel of Jim Falls feeling like college wasn't for him. But he pressed on and learned that applying engineering concepts to hands-on problems came easy. The 24-year-old is now excited to start a doctoral degree at Wisconsin's flagship university, UW-Madison, and use his skills to impact society.
Listen to William Kunkle here.
My name is William Kunkel. I'm graduating from UW-Stout with a bachelor's in mechanical engineering. Then after that, I will be pursuing a PhD at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
I had a lot of difficulty with school early on in elementary school and middle school. I'm dyslexic, so eventually I decided school wasn't for me. When you go into higher education — especially pursuing a Ph.D. and even in the undergraduate level in college — it's all focus on application. And I've never had trouble understanding concepts. It's just been the memorization part.
My vision is really to work on what I like to think of as tomorrow's problems. The technology that our society can develop is largely dependent on the materials available to us and the manufacturing processes that we have available. So what I'm going to be working on is basically making 3D printing of metals better. That's how I feel I can impact society by enabling new technologies.
'Don't be afraid to try new things'
Priyank Patel, Osseo
University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire graduate Priyank Patel is wasting no time after crossing the stage with a degree in business finance. Patel received a job offer to work as a financial analyst for Kohler Co. in Sheboygan before commencement.
Listen to Priyank Patel here.
My name is Priyank. I graduated today with a bachelor's in business finance. I'll be starting work at Kohler Co. in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, and starting as a financial analyst, which I look forward to.
Today was a great accomplishment. But it's just one step into the direction for the future that waits for me.
Hopefully, I can leave a good legacy behind me when I'm retiring at the age of 60 and just make an impact into people's lives.
Don't be afraid to try new things. Don't be afraid to make a big move. Like Steve Jobs said, "Stay hungry. Strive for greatness."