First Wave scholar Jamie Dawson urges graduates to ‘recognize our limitless possibilities’

Jamie Dawson stands at a podium bearing the word "Wisconsin" and the UW crest and speaks into a microphone while wearing a traditional cap and gown with colorful stoles. Chancellor Becky Blank and others sit in the background watching her speech.

When the UW–Madison graduating senior class selected Jamie Dawson to deliver the student address at the 2018 Winter Commencement Ceremony, she promised to be very intentional with her platform.

“This will not be a squandered moment,” she said.

On Sunday, in front of nearly 8,000 people at the Kohl Center, she delivered on that promise.

“Today, I would like to share the simple things that we have perhaps forgotten throughout our academic journeys: What it means to recognize our limitless possibilities, to embrace our individual talents in the faces of complexity, and the ways in which we are now responsible for giving back,” Dawson told the assembled graduates and their loved ones.

“We have successfully embarked the path of knowledge, but we must remember that the path to knowledge is distinct from the path to truth. And the path to truth is our true prerogative. To lead with compassion is our goal.”

Dawson, who received a Bachelor of Arts degree with majors in Afro-American studies and psychology, returned to the theme of seeing complexities as possibilities repeatedly throughout her 7 ½-minute address, which was punctuated by enthusiastic encouragement and praise from the audience.

“In our pursuit of higher education, we’ve proven that we are capable of evaluating complexities — complexities like knowing that, while controversial, topics such as religion and politics belonged in our classrooms because they effect our everyday lives and teach us to listen to one another,” she said.

[The day in photos: 2018 Winter Commencement]

Dawson spoke of her time living with her mother in the homes of extended family members, and sharing a twin-size bed with her cousin and her cousin’s son, and about her great uncle — a carpenter she called Papa — who gave her “the spirit that I needed in order to put a little two-step in my bounce,” and helped inspire her to become the person she is today.

She spoke about the opportunities she found as part of UW–Madison, traveling to Rio de Janeiro in 2016 with the UW Global Gateway program, workshopping and performing with internationally recognized artists as a member of the 9th cohort of First Wave Scholars and working as an activist to give underrepresented students a voice through her art.

“As lifelong learners I encourage everyone here to stand tall in the face of pushback. Don’t be afraid of the pull. Your uniqueness is an asset. Embrace your story, your voice and your creativity.”

As she closed her remarks, Dawson urged the graduates to give back and support others in the way each of them have been supported in order to reach this point.

“So, I ask all of you today: What possibilities are you ready to actualize? What talents will you embrace? Who in your life will you be there for? Allow these questions to sit with you on this momentous day. Let them frame the direction of your newfound life outside of the walls of this institution. For this is what it truly means to have been a Badger. To be a Badger. To not just have studied, but to have completed an entire journey at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.”

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Watch the full address in the video below.