Student Commencement Speaker Kelsi Engelhardt shares what ‘the good life’ looks like

It is truly an amazing honor to be speaking to all of you today. I would like to start by thanking those who nominated me and entrusted me with this task. Further, I am beyond thankful and grateful for all of the support my family, partner, friends, co-workers, and professors have given me throughout my academic journey at the UW-Green Bay Sheboygan and Green Bay Campuses. Support that I am sure all of you appreciate and can recognize as being part of your own journeys.

As a psychology major and now proud sexual assault and domestic violence victim advocate at Safe Harbor in Sheboygan, I have found myself immersed in the idea that our relationships with other people are truly one of the most impactful aspects of our lives. And so, when I was recently reintroduced to a very famous ongoing psychology study on human happiness by Harvard professor Robert Waldinger, I knew that I had to share it with you all. This study has been examining happiness and what the researchers describe as the “good life,” over the course of the last 80+ years. Foremost they found that having close, meaningful relationships is what makes people happier and healthier overall. They debunk the misconception that wealth, fame, high achievements would give people a good, happy life. It is really just about good relationships. All really amazing findings! This study highlights something that I have, unknowingly, learned over the course of my college career, and perhaps something you have too. Relationships with other people really do matter, and fostering healthy, respectful, genuine relationships with other people is critically important. Furthermore, I believe that these relationships are likely what have allowed me to be so successful here at UWGB.

Graduates, please take a moment to think back on your own experiences at UWGB and its campuses. Think about all of the people who helped you to succeed, who supported you when you were at your lowest and highest, who chose to be your friend and confidant when no one else would. Next, please think about all of the people who you chose to support and help, all of the people that you studied with and laughed with, the people who you made cherished memories with. To me, those people, those relationships are what made my college career so wonderful. I remember starting at the Sheboygan campus after graduating high school a semester early and being utterly terrified of the experience in front of me. I knew no one and had no idea what to expect. But, despite the apprehension, I quickly found myself at home. Although I loved learning about fascinating topics in history, sociology, and theatre, it was the connections I made as a Stage Manager for University Theater under Dr. Thomas Campbell, as a peer tutor for writing and biology in the student success center, and as a study partner for my harder classes that truly provided me with the beginnings of the so called “good life”. My relationships with my peers also had a massive impact on me. I even met my, now partner of 5 years in one of my classes at UWGB Sheboygan. As my academic journey brought me to the Green Bay campus, I, again, found that relationships, these connections, were powerful motivations leading me toward true happiness. Within the amazing Psychology Department, the bonds I formed supported me, guided me, lifted me up, and helped me in my pursuit of happiness. I am truly grateful for professors like Drs. Ryan Martin, Georjeanna Wilson-Doenges, Kris Vespia, and Allen Huffcutt. Without the support of amazing, compassionate, motivated professors who pushed me to succeed, and without the wonderful friends I made that always offered their insights and slow an ear when I needed advice, I do not think my college experience would have been as enjoyable. Sure, I would have still studied hard, stayed up late writing papers, stressed over mid-terms and finals, sluggishly dragged myself to those 8:00am classes, and likely I would be graduating today, at least I would hope! But I would not be able to look back on my time at UWGB and smile. I would not be able to think about all the awesome and inspiring experiences I had as a student, a friend, a peer advisor, a research group member, and an intern and feel fulfilled and happy. Yes, there were times when life was tough over the past several years, I am sure we all experienced loss, pain, frustration, and anger, but despite those negative feelings, the relationships, and bonds we formed, those are what have made the lasting difference. Because those relationships are what created memories and connections that we can take with us for the rest of our lives.

So, as we celebrate today and look forward to our upcoming journey whether it be a career in our chosen field of study, a graduate program, or a much-needed vacation, I urge that we all take time to appreciate those people in our lives that mean the most to us. Those people who we have supported and loved over the course of our college career. Whether they be family, friends, partners, or professors. Yes, today is about you and your successes, but remember that lasting happiness and having a “good life” doesn’t come from us alone, but rather from our close, genuine relationships with others.

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