Suzanne Schrader knows where she learned to push herself hard: Growing up on her father’s dairy farm in rural Arkansaw, Wis.
“Dad worked 35 years and missed three milkings,” said Schrader, who is ready put her strong work ethic and off-the-charts enthusiasm to work in a new career after graduating from Chippewa Valley Technical College’s (CVTC’s) Marketing Management program Tuesday.
This month, 373 students in 33 different programs graduated at the Eau Claire campus. The most popular programs were Nursing-Associate Degree with 70 graduates; followed by Business Management, 25; IT network Specialist, 23; Truck Driving, 23; and Medical Assistant, 22. At the River Falls campus, 39 graduates received degrees in five different programs, with 32 in the Nursing-Associate Degree program.
Schrader, 38, was chosen as the student speaker for the commencement ceremony Dec. 17 at UW-Eau Claire’s Zorn Arena. Schrader already has ample proof of her drive before coming to CVTC. The 1993 Durand High School graduate had some training as a travel agent, but was unable to find work in the field back in the 90s.
“I had no other choice but to go out in the working world,” she said.” I’ve worked hard all my life.”
She worked at a gas station, and as a seasonal worker for the city of Eau Claire. She paved roads for Mathy Construction, and most recently distributed beer for General Beer Northwest. While attending CVTC, she’s worked at Menards.
“I personally worked 50 hours a week, went to school full-time, and managed a 4.0 my last two semesters,” she said.
But anyone who meets Schrader does not come away with the impression that she’s someone who’s tired and overworked.
“My father can take most of the credit for my decision to switch programs to Marketing Management, because he knew I loved people. He always said I could sell ice to an Eskimo,” Schrader said. “Don’t you hate it when your dad is right?”
With a totally outgoing and talkative personality, positive attitude and infectious laugh, Schrader naturally gets attention from those around her. It was her qualities, more than the simple fact that she was older than most of her classmates, that had people turning toward her during program activities like working at Bridgeport, the college store.
“Working with my classmates and instructors was a great experience. I also enjoyed raising money for Juvenile Diabetes. We had a Sports and Entertainment class that had us put on a fundraiser to raise money for a cause of our choice. Eau Claire businesses donated gifts and food. It was an awesome experience.”
Schrader’s overall message to her fellow graduates was to “never give up.” She noted it was a little scary at first when she told classmates she graduated from high school in 1993 and a fellow student said that’s the year she was born.
“The program was really hard and I was unsure of my decision,” Schrader said. “But in the back of my mind, I thought, ‘never give up.’”
Schrader said it’s also a little scary graduating and looking for a new job. “All of the bumps in the road are just there to test your strength, so no matter how many times you hear the word ‘no,’ never give up,” she told the graduates.
The guest speaker was Jeff Urlaub, founder and president of MEP Associates, an Eau Claire-based engineering firm. Urlaub won both the CVTC Alumni Association and the Wisconsin Technical College System’s distinguished alumnus awards this year.
“If you find what you love to do as a career in life, going to work each day feels more like a hobby than work,” Urlaub said. “You will know when this happens because you cannot believe how fast each day goes by. Keep setting goals and continue learning each day so you can be the best you can be in your profession.”
Faculty speaker Julie Pepper, a Medical Assistant program instructor and winner of the Fuerstenberg Teaching Excellence Award, praised the graduates as heroes, reflecting a staff development theme for the year.
“Every one of you sitting in these chairs is a hero, and you have been on your own hero’s journey. Every one of you has faced adversity, and every one of you has had help along the way. . . Now it is time for you to help others on their journey,” Pepper said.