Chancellor: James Stout’s compassion alive and well at UW-Stout

By University Communications
December 17, 2016
Chancellor: James Stout’s compassion alive and well at UW-Stout

Photo: Commencement, Dec. 17, 2016

The compassion and empathy for others that James Huff Stout, the founder of what would become University of Wisconsin-Stout, exhibited throughout his life still is shining through at Stout’s beloved institution, Chancellor Bob Meyer told nearly 700 graduates at two commencement ceremonies Saturday.

Commencement was held despite a snowstorm that hit Wisconsin Friday night into Saturday morning, dropping about half a foot of snow on the region. Meyer asked everyone in the crowd to give themselves a round of applause for overcoming difficult travel conditions to make it to the ceremonies and thanked the grounds crew for coming in early to clear the parking lots and sidewalks.

Meyer drew parallels between the compassionate way Stout lived his life and the outpouring of compassion displayed on campus in the aftermath of the death of student Hussain Saeed Alnahdi on Oct. 31.Alnahdi, from Saudi Arabia, was killed in downtown Menomonie during an attack Oct. 30. No one has been arrested, although police have identified a suspect. 

James Stout, time and again, showed compassion for all segments of society and even befriended the railroad workers on the trains he often took to Madison, Meyer said, citing information from a new book on UW-Stout’s history entitled “An Idea Comes of Age; UW-Stout, 1891-2016” written by Jerry Poling, assistant communications director.

A graduate acknowledges a friend in the crowd.UW-Stout is celebrating its 125th anniversary in 2016.

“I believe this kind of compassion for all segments of society exhibited by James Huff Stout has become imbued in our campus and continues to be on display today,” Meyer said. “In fact, I have seen striking examples of this empathy and the ability to show concern for others across both racial and cultural lines played out many, many times on our campus in recent months.” 

The death of Alnahdi, Meyer said, “was the darkest day of my tenure as chancellor. The memory of that day continues to haunt me.” 

Despite that pain, Meyer said, examples abound that “the compassionate and empathetic way James Huff Stout lived his life is truly alive and well in the institution he founded.”

These examples include the memorials that sprung up in the wake of the tragedy, Meyer said, as well as the yeoman efforts of UW-Stout employees to help Alnahdi’s friends and UW-Stout students, faculty and staff “making sure their needs were met.”

That compassion was evident “in the hundreds of cards and letters sent in by total strangers who wanted to express their sympathy and love for Hussain’s family in Saudi Arabia,” Meyer said, who then read from two of the notes.

Chancellor Bob Meyer applauds during his speech.

Finally, Meyer said, “I see that compassion in the thousands of dollars that have been donated to a memorial fund for Hussain, as well as a reward fund for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible for the assault.”The memorial fund has collected about $10,500 to date. 

Meyer then read from an email officials received from one of Alnahdi’s roommates in which he thanked the university for the support he and his friends have received. 

The communication said in part: “I have never felt more honored to call myself a UW-Stout student. The student body, and surrounding community, has become closer than I would have ever imagined. Thank you for being so passionate about this school, its students and the community. Thank you for inspiring us, so that together we could hopefully inspire thousands more! You guys are awesome!” 

Patrick Guilfoile, provost and vice chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs, presided over the ceremonies. 

Deans of the colleges presented the diplomas, and Meyer conferred the degrees to 697 undergraduate and graduate students.

Mark Parsons, vice chancellor for University Advancement and Marketing, welcomed the graduates into the Stout Alumni Association. 

Music was provided by the university’s Symphonic Band and Jazz Orchestra, directed by Aaron M. Durst. Choral selections were performed by the university’s Symphonic Singers and Chamber Choir, directed by Jerry Hui.