Former Governor and HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson Gives Convocation Address
September 14, 2010
Challenges -- even setbacks -- should not deter today's students any more than they did Knox College's 2010 Opening Convocation speaker, former Wisconsin Governor and former Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson.
"When I graduated from law school (in 1966), I couldn't find a job," Thompson said. "Before I went into the Air Force, I wanted to run for the State Assembly. At 23, everybody said I couldn't do it. I did it, because I believed in myself and believed that I could do it. And I won."
Thompson told students that he also had setbacks. "I remember when I ran for Congress and got defeated and thought my whole life was devastated. Politics was the only thing I knew. And thought that I was done. But because I got defeated, I learned a lesson -- that you had to work harder, organize better, and do a better job."
Thompson rebounded with a successful campaign for Governor of Wisconsin in 1987. "Most of the political pundits said I couldn't win, taking on an incumbent Democrat in a Democratic state. And I won. Because I believed in myself. I believed that I could make a difference and wanted to make a difference, and believed that I had ideas superior to what was being advanced. So don't get trapped by dogma from other people."
Thompson was re-elected to an unprecedented four terms as Governor of Wisconsin, serving until 2001, when he was selected to head the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services by President George W. Bush.
Government and individual Americans surmounted the challenges of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Thompson said, because people were willing to step up and "make decisions, right or wrong."
Thompson described how his agency, HHS, responded: "The first thing I did (on the day of the attacks), not knowing whether or not I had the authority to do so, I called a national health emergency in America. It had never been done before. I don't even know if I had the power to do so. But I did it. And I knew that the planes were grounded, but I knew that I had to get tons of medical equipment and supplies to New York. So I took it upon myself, based upon what I considered my responsibility and my duties... I [told the airplane pilots]: You fly. And they did. "
Thompson encouraged students to accept the duties and responsibilities that come with education.
"Knox College trains you to be the best, the brightest, the innovator, the original thinker," Thompson said. "You are being taught by some of the finest faculty. You've got a school that believes in you and wants you to succeed. In order to succeed, you have to give something back, whether it be to your college, or your next-door neighbor, or somebody down the street -- be involved."
President Roger Taylor acknowledged recent gifts to Knox from Richard Burkhardt and Life Trustee Dorothy Johnson Burkhardt. Both were graduated from Knox in 1939, and both went on to distinguished careers in higher education at Ball State University -- Dorothy in French and Richard in history.
Photos: President Roger Taylor (above) and members of the audience (left) acknowledge gifts to Knox from alumni Dorothy Johnson Burkhardt and Richard Burkhardt.
The Burkhardts have made gifts to endow the Johnson Lecture Series in Modern Languages, the Burkhardt Lecture Series in History, the Burkhardt Language Center in George Davis Hall, and faculty chairs in history and modern languages.
"With their most recent gift of $1.5 million [to endow the faculty chair in history] the Burkhardts become the most generous living donors to Knox College," Taylor said.
Knox College awarded several faculty, staff and student prizes at the convocation.
The Philip Green Wright-Lombard College Prizes are awarded for distinguished teaching by tenured and non-tenured members of the Knox faculty. The prize for tenured faculty was awarded to Steve Cohn, professor of economics. This year, two prizes were awarded to non-tenured faculty: John Spittell, professor of business and management and executive-in-residence, and Chad Simpson, visiting assistant professor of English.
Photos: At right, Vice President and Dean of the College Lawrence Breitborde (left) with Wright Prize winners Steve Cohn (right), and John Spittell (below left) and Chad Simpson (below right).
The Wright Prizes are based solely on outstanding teaching. The awards were created by Sewall Wright, Theodore Wright and Quincy Wright -- three distinguished graduates of Lombard College in Galesburg. The Wrights' father, Philip Green Wright, taught at Lombard, and after Lombard closed in 1930, its alumni records were merged with Knox's.
The Faculty Scholarship Prize was awarded to Kelly Wiggen, a biology major from Palatine, Illinois. The highest honor accorded by Knox faculty to a student, the prize recognizes exceptional academic ability and significant participation in extra-curricular activities. The prize was established in 1922 by contributions from faculty to an endowment campaign.
The Janet C. Hunter Prizes are awarded for accomplishments and service to the College. One prize is awarded to a member of the hourly staff and one to a member of the salaried staff. The 2010 winner for hourly staff is Bobbie Helander, of the dining services department. The winner for salaried staff is Jackie Uhlmann, executive secretary in the office of the Dean of the College. The prizes were established in 2000 by contributions from friends and colleagues of Janet C. Hunter, a longtime member of the Knox College staff.
Uhlmann "interacts with faculty, students and staff with competence, warmth and concern," said Knox College President Roger Taylor, who presented the Hunter Prizes. "She is an example of how we can treat each other on campus."
Photo, right: 2010 Hunter Prize recipients Bobbi Helander (left) and Jackie Uhlmann
Helander manages the convenience store, located in the Post Residence Hall. "Bobbi is always upbeat and welcoming... There are those who walk across campus daily for a shot of sunshine from her," Taylor said. "She has also taught her student workers to be warm, courteous and friendly."
The Elbridge Pierce Prize for Scholastic Improvement was presented by Associate Dean of the College Lori Haslem to Kimberly Dick, an educational studies major from Lena, Illinois. The award is given annually to the student who has made the greatest academic improvement during the sophomore and junior years. The prize was endowed by a gift from Elbridge Pierce, a prominent attorney in Michigan and member of the Knox College Board of Trustees from 1956 to 1960.
Haslem also recognized three seniors who were selected for induction into Phi Beta Kappa, based on academic achievement through their junior years. They are Ashley Antenore of Geneva, Illinois; Sara DeMaria of Columbus, Ohio; and Kaytlin Renfroe of Overland Park, Kansas. Every year, the Knox College chapter of Phi Beta Kappa inducts graduating seniors based on outstanding academic achievement through their four years at Knox; particularly distinguished students are eligible for induction at the close of their third year.
Founded in 1837, Knox is a national liberal arts college in Galesburg, Illinois, with students from 45 states and 48 countries. Knox's "Old Main" is a National Historic Landmark and the only building remaining from the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates.