UW Odyssey Project graduates and supporters celebrate at in-person ceremony

Head shots of all Odyssey Class of 2022 students at UW–Madison

After two years of virtual and hybrid instruction, online gatherings and numerous COVID-related obstacles, staff and students of the UW Odyssey Project were thrilled to gather in person for a celebration.

For the first time since 2019, students, staff, family members and friends gathered in the Great Hall at Memorial Union for the Odyssey Graduation Ceremony. Students hailed from as close as Madison and Chicago and as far away as Mexico and Guatemala. They spoke six languages and held dozens of professional roles, from cashier and construction worker to nursing assistant and youth organizer. But at the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Odyssey Project, they came together as the Class of 2022.

Now finishing its 19th year, the award-winning Odyssey Project provides a free, two-semester humanities course to its 30 students each week, as well as dinner and child care when class is in session. In addition to earning 6 academic credits from UW–Madison, students gain the resiliency to face life’s obstacles. The course is one of Odyssey’s four core programs, each of which is designed to help break the cycle of generational poverty.

After opening remarks from UW–Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank, who received the 2022 Friend of the UW Odyssey Project Award, and Odyssey Project Codirectors Emily Auerbach and Kevin Mullen, students shared pieces of their writing in a prerecorded video presentation. Their stories and words drew inspiration from the authors, philosophers and playwrights they’d studied over the course of the program. More information about the students — as well as additional samples of their work — can be found in the May 2022 edition of the Odyssey Oracle.

Below are a few highlights from the May 4, 2022, celebration. Photos were taken by Madison photographer Hedi Rudd, a 2012 graduate of the Odyssey Project. View more photos from the event on our website.

UW–Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank poses with Odyssey '22 graduate Erendira Giron Cruz at the Odyssey graduation ceremony
UW–Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank, shown here with Odyssey ’22 graduate Erendira Giron Cruz, delivered opening remarks at the ceremony, saying that seeing the program grow during her tenure “was one of the joys of (my) time at the university.” Blank’s role as chancellor is coming to a close in May after nearly nine years.


Mother and son Ericka and Jermaine Booey, both Odyssey '22 graduates, pose together at the graduation ceremony at UW–Madison.
Mother and son Ericka and Jermaine Booey completed this year’s Odyssey Project course together. Jermaine wrote that when he was initially accepted to the program, he wanted to turn it down. “Man, I’m happy I stayed. I met lots of wonderful people, found some connections, got to experience school with my mom…. But most importantly, I went back to school, something I told myself I wouldn’t do and thought I couldn’t do.”


Odyssey Project 2022 graduate smiles while seated at the table with family. She is holding her young daughter on her lap.
Odyssey ’22 graduate Mariam Maiga shared the event with her daughter, along with other family and friends. While their parents are in class, Odyssey students’ children and grandchildren, ages 2-18, participate in Odyssey Junior, which supports the children in self-discovery, literacy and expression through visual arts, music, writing and more.


Odyssey graduate Yasmine Dobbins poses with her young daughter and Bucky Badger on stage at the graduation ceremony.
Bucky was on hand to provide laughs and pose with graduates and family members as they crossed the stage to accept their certificates. Here he poses with Odyssey grad Yasmine Dobbins and her daughter. In the background, Odyssey Project Codirectors Emily Auerbach and Kevin Mullen prepare to welcome the next graduate to the stage.


Odyssey Project graduates Brandyn Bess, Ontario Frazier, Michelle Lee Mack and Will Nunn III hold up their certificates at the graduation ceremony.
Four Odyssey ’22 graduates — Brandyn Bess, Ontario Frazier, Michelle Lee Mack and Will Nunn III — pose with their certificates after the ceremony. To date, more than 500 adults have graduated from the Odyssey Project; some have gone on to earn degrees from UW–Madison or other institutions.


For more information on the Odyssey Project, see the program website or contact Codirector Emily Auerbach, emily.auerbach@wisc.edu or 608-262-3733. To donate to the program or become a volunteer, visit the Support Odyssey webpage.