Riley Boedigheimer isn’t afraid of adversity. In fact, he embraces it and threads it into the story he tells others about who he is and how he orients himself in the world. He says that, ultimately, the challenges he’s faced have shaped him into the person he is—and he’s stronger for it. With perseverance being a core value of his, Riley chose it as the theme for the remarks he prepared to read as the student speaker at CCAPS’s 2020 Commencement ceremony. Now with the virtual ceremony taking place, he’s graciously volunteered to create a video for his fellow graduates to watch.
Riley’s message about perseverance is especially relevant amid the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic. And when you hear Riley’s story, you understand a little more about the adversity he faced, the challenges that drive him, and ideas that excite him.
An Unexpected Freshman Year
It was during Riley’s freshman year at the University of Minnesota Duluth that he received shocking news that would affect his college experience and entire outlook. His father was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive type of cancer that begins within the brain. Devastated by the news, Riley stepped away from his prebusiness studies and took a semester off to be with his family.
“That’s been a really big part of my journey and it’s influenced me deeply,” Riley says. “It’s a defining moment, but if you can get through it you’ll grow as a person. That’s the only way to survive.”
After spending precious time with his father, who passed a year later, Riley found himself in the throes of soul-searching and myriad forks in the road. He made some big decisions: He would transfer to the Twin Cities campus, and once there, he’d reexamine his options for a major. At first, Riley thought he’d pursue a health care degree, but then he discovered the Inter-College Program (ICP). It was an individualized degree that would allow him to sculpt his own education. For Riley, it was the blank canvas he needed to take control of his future as he persevered with his education.
An Individualized Degree
He met with his advisor right away and began the work of designing a degree that would suit his interests. Riley focused on three areas: applied business, global studies, and product design. He drafted a proposal for the degree, citing his passion for ideas and drive to pursue entrepreneurship and product management. The proposal was accepted, and Riley packed rigorous courses into his schedule, averaging five classes a semester.
“I love ICP because I think it’s more representative of the individual,” Riley says. “You’re able to follow your own path, and that appealed to me. Once I realized I could combine different interests of mine into one degree, I was pretty much sold.”
One class that particularly stands out to Riley is a course on product innovation. He worked with a team of students to develop a reusable plastic spray bottle prototype, which the group presented to 3M to potentially implement. The rush of excitement giving life to a new product idea and to put his education to work was exhilarating for Riley.
"I love ICP because I think it’s more representative of the individual. You’re able to follow your own path, and that appealed to me. Once I realized I could combine different interests of mine into one degree, I was pretty much sold.”
“This is overall what my ICP degree is centered on: product development and implementing it into the marketplace,” Riley says. “It’s a holistic view of business on domestic and international scales. Ultimately, I’d like to be a product manager for a company with international accounts. Down the road I’d like to be an entrepreneur. I have all these ideas in my mind I’d like to pursue. I’m doing it one step at a time, all these goals.”
All These Goals
Life has a way of throwing curve balls when we least expect them. When the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the country, it caused a vast and long-lasting interruption. For Riley and other students graduating in the spring of 2020, it meant an abrupt switch to distant learning and a virtual commencement ceremony.
Riley says that overall, the online learning environment has been a good experience. He misses the in-person interaction, but he’s still able to savor the completion of a degree that coalesced with profound self-discovery, deepened awareness and gratitude, and a hard-won determination to face adversity with grace.
As Riley wrote his remarks for CCAPS’s 2020 Commencement ceremony, he reflected on everything that brought him to this moment. Even—and perhaps especially—being quarantined at home, he felt that his message to be resilient was more relevant than ever.
“These are very tumultuous times and the graduates of 2020 will need to adjust to the changing dynamics of school and the world. Ultimately, that flexibility and resilience is a good asset to have,” he says. “Every graduating class has its own struggles, but none has experienced anything like what the class of 2020 is experiencing right now. To me, that says that everyone in this graduating class now has a very unique situation that helps to define their experience. And no one can take that away from them. As hard as this might be, I believe this will make people stronger and better than before.”
Riley Boedigheimer is a recipient of the Karin L. Larson Interdisciplinary Education Scholarship.