The University of Utah honored its outgoing seniors on Tuesday, April 17, with the sixth annual Senior Send-Off at the University Guest House and Conference Center.
Hosted by the U Student Alumni Board and The MUSS, the event gathered soon-to-be-graduates to enjoy a dinner together while listening to notable U alumni. Students also had the opportunity to enter to win prizes, like season football tickets, dining gift cards, a graduate test prep course and more.
The event was free for seniors graduating in May or August 2018, but it required students to register to attend. Even with the required RSVP, Rick Walker, the vice president of student relations on the U Student Alumni Board and a senior in chemical engineering said one of the biggest hurdles for the event was getting seniors to show up. According to Walker, 300 students RSVP’d for the send-off.
“[A problem we faced was] just getting all of the seniors to be excited to come here,” Walker said. “A lot of [seniors] don’t, and our board isn’t totally recognized on campus by everyone like The MUSS Board, but we work really closely with them. Getting people to know who we were and realize that … this would be a great event for them to enjoy was a challenge.”
Redenbaugh Ratchets Students to Succeed Without Excuses
This year, the U hosted guest speaker Russell Redenbaugh, a U alumnus who was blinded and lost six fingers at the age of 16 after an accidental explosion while building a model rocket in his garage. Redenbaugh is an investor and economist, a black belt in jiu-jitsu, was the Olympic torchbearer in the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics and three-time jiu-jitsu world champion.
After receiving his undergraduate degree from the U, Redenbaugh earned a Master of Business Administration at Wharton School. Speakers are chosen by the Student Alumni Board and The MUSS, who thought to invite Redenbaugh to speak because of his story.
“Obviously, the first criteria [when picking a speaker] is that they’re an alumni,” Walker said. “Our advisor John Fackler read a story about Russell Redenbaugh a year or so back … [and his story] is really inspirational. John sent me the story and had me read it and [I] felt the same way — just really inspirational so I called up Russell, thought he’d be perfect for the job and he was really willing to help us out. He’s really excited to talk in front of young people, that’s what he has been wanting to do for a while. Redenbaugh is a really qualified, awesome guy.”
Redenbaugh opened his hour-long keynote speech in an unexpected way.
“I’m not going to do inspirational — I don’t believe in inspirational,” he said. “It lasts about as long as champagne, and by the time you get home tonight it’ll wear off. The rate of return on inspiration is pretty low, so I’m interested in talking about habits and behaviors and ways of thinking that have allowed me to move from welfare to wealth. My whole life is proof that if I can do it, it can’t be that hard.”
Redenbaugh counseled the graduating seniors saying, “Know what you know, but more importantly, know the limit of what you know. That’s a serious problem I see in our country, not just with young people, that people can’t distinguish between what they think they know and what they don’t know. This is not encouraging. There are a number of cliches, like ‘Fall forward.’ But I would say a better cliche would be ‘Get up again and do an after action report so you discover why you fell down, and then move forward again after reflection.’ Life is profoundly uncertain and incredibly simple if you just have a small number of distinctions for seeing the world, and we get in trouble when we overcomplicate the facts. Keep it simple, distinguish what you know from what you think you know, find the limit of your knowledge and how and where to increase it. You’re just beginning your learning.”
In the audience were a number of Redenbaugh’s family members, including his sisters.
Following the speech, Redenbaugh opened the discussion to a Q&A session where students took turns speaking into the microphone as he gave seniors advice and commentary on investing and business decisions, the definition of trust and who to give it to, the danger of temper tantrums and even the freezing temperatures in Salt Lake City that evening. Redenbaugh emphasized the importance of never using anything as an excuse for not achieving something and to understand the facts and reality of a situation before diving in.
“One of the things that I’ve learned is what limits us is our narratives — I can’t do that because I’m too short, too wide and so on,” he said.
Reconnecting Before Resigning
Throughout the event, sponsors, including University Credit Union, University Campus Store, Utah Athletics and U Alumni Career Services, tabled the event, answered students’ questions, celebrated graduation season and handed out information about their services and benefits for alumni and students alike.
“I definitely think they make it worth your while to come,” said Nikayla Spriggs, a sophomore in computer science working at the Campus Store. “They’ve got raffle items and they’ve got food and speakers. I think it’s a good pat on the back. It’s more personal for students who are graduating than just like, ‘You’re one of 10,000 people,’ you know? Now that I know about it, I would definitely consider coming when I am graduating as a senior, get some food and some prizes. [It’s] awesome.”
For many seniors who attended the event, they felt it was a good way to cap off their undergraduate career.
“The food was top notch,” said Katherine Leibold, a senior graduating this May with degrees in Latin American studies and honors political science. “Senior send-off was a fun opportunity to reconnect with some friends I hadn’t seen for awhile.”