Q&A: Commencement student speaker says UW ‘transformed’ him

// Mechanical Engineering

Tags: commencement, ME, student, Terrence Thurk, WEMPEC

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Student keynote speaker Terrence Thurk, who’s graduating with a degree in mechanical engineering, was selected after submitting a video showing his passion for UW–Madison.

Thurk is a strong believer in the Wisconsin Idea. He says UW–Madison has transformed him “from a self-conscious and socially award freshman boy to a confident young man who is not only ready, but excited to tackle the challenges that lie ahead.”

Terrence Thurk
Terrence Thurk

Tell us about your life before UW–Madison

I was born in Beijing, China. However, I grew up in three different elementary schools in two different countries. Right before I was born, my family fell into hard times because my dad’s startup went under. My mom, dad and I were all separated when I was 4 years old.

My dad stayed in Beijing to rebuild his business and pay off his debt, my mom took an offer with UW–Madison to do her masters a second time to start a new life, and I was sent to live with my grandparents in BaoTou, inner Mongolia (the equivalent of moving from New York City to Iowa).

I’ve only spent 3 years with my mom and dad together as a complete family. When I was 4, I was sent to live with my grandparents until I was 8. I spent a year living with my dad, before going to America to live with my mom.

I recognize that my sometimes difficult circumstances have led me to become the person I am today. Because of my unstable experiences growing up, I am someone who works very hard for his success and happiness, as well as the successes and happiness of others. Because of what I’ve been through, I strive to not take anything for granted. We all have just one life, and we get to choose what we do with it.

What student organizations did you get involved with while on campus?

One of my proudest accomplishments is working as a regional core member as part of Students Today Leaders Forever (STLF). My fellow regional core members Jessica Greshik and Riley Egan are great leaders and friends. The three of us worked together as a part of the bigger STLF initiative with our chapter and bus cores to recruit and empower over 120 Badgers to travel to Salt Lake City over spring break. As part of the trip, we stopped in various communities to do volunteer service along the way.

Seeing the smiles on our fellow UW–Madison students, their kindness, personal growth and initiative to help others was the most rewarding experience I have ever had. I was so proud of them, and so proud to be part of such a great university and student organization.

What jobs and internships have you had?

Since freshman year, I have now had four internships and one co-op in the industries of theatrical lighting, cooking appliances and metal welding. In addition, while in school, I also worked as an undergraduate in the Wisconsin Electric Machines and Power Electronics Consortium as an undergraduate researcher on electric drive analysis and electromagnetics.

Terrence Thurk enjoyed being involved in Hoofer Sailing Club, including wind-surfing on Lake Monona.
Terrence Thurk enjoyed being involved in Hoofer Sailing Club, including wind-surfing on Lake Monona.

At the age of 22, I hope to have my first engineering patent. As part of an independent project, I am excited to test out my latest invention. By February, I hope to submit to the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.

What is your favorite spot on campus?

I love Lake Mendota! I am a member of the Hoofers Sailing Club, and sailing is a hobby and passion of mine. My favorite place to go on a date is watching the sunset over Lake Mendota, complete with Babcock ice cream.

Tell us a fun fact about yourself

I love to dance and I very much enjoyed taking ballroom dance with Rena Kornblum here at UW–Madison.

What are you most looking forward to about being the student speaker at commencement?

I’m looking forward to sharing my story and my message. I believe there are some important lessons I have learned through my own hardships, and I believe that other people can take advantage of those lessons in their own life after graduation!

Can students expect your speech to be funny or more on the serious side?

A little bit of both. It is my hope to bring out the emotions in students and go through a roller coaster of joy, tears and sincerity. It is our emotions that tie us all together as humans, and I want to remind everyone that we are all in this together.

Author: Sara Griswold