A graduation party that featured a goat tied to an outhouse and an "unusually low amount of teeth per capita" became fodder for an essay that won a major statewide award.
Bonny Bobka, who graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater on Saturday, May 17, with a degree in psychology, authored "A Liberal Character" for a class assignment.
The essay is one of three winners in the UW System Liberal Arts Essay Scholarship Competition.
"I have experience trying to bridge the gap culturally with my father's family, which is more salt-of-the-earth," said Bobka, who grew up in Crandon, a place she said is known for the "brush run, racing and the mine."
In her work, Bobka writes about the perspective she obtained through her liberal arts education at UW-Whitewater.
Bobka used her cousin's party to frame the essay. She wrote about how her liberal education influenced her character and how she now recognizes that character is ultimately a choice.
Sometimes, the choice is not easy.
"It is most difficult to do the right thing in your own backyard," Bobka wrote in the essay.
Bobka authored the essay as an assignment for GenEd 390: World of Ideas, taught by lecturer Olesya Ostapenko.
Bobka, a nontraditional student, pursued her education at UW-Whitewater after she worked for years with people with developmental disabilities. She commuted from Madison and continued in that profession, working in group homes full time, third-shift.
Bobka said she found UW-Whitewater was accessible to non-traditional students like herself.
"Considering the night classes and flexibility, UW-Whitewater was a good option for me," she said.
Bobka said she was surprised to learn Ostapenko chose to nominate her essay for the award, which comes with a $2,000 scholarship.
"I didn't think anything of it," Bobka said. "I thought it was a nice gesture but I didn't expect to win."
Ostapenko said Bobka writes movingly, is sharp and witty and has a good sense of humor. She said Bobka's paper stood out from other papers she read.
"As soon as I read her paper I knew it had a chance," Ostapenko said.
Bobka is applying for jobs in the human services field and also plans to continue to find outlets for creative writing.
"I want to keep writing and not lose interest," she said.
The contest is sponsored by the UW System Advisory Group on the Liberal Arts and is one of many activities of the UW System's LEAP Wisconsin initiative, which aims to make the goals and outcomes of a liberal arts education accessible and valuable to all UW Students.