From afar, Steven Weddle ’76 and Jordyn Smith ’19 don’t appear to have much in common. Weddle is a managing director at J.P. Morgan Asset Management in New York City with a bachelor’s degree and MBA from UW-Madison and nearly 40 years of experience in the banking industry. Smith, meanwhile, juggled her USM education and many extracurricular activities with a part-time job at Dairy Queen. She received the Frank S. Spigener Service and Leadership award in May and is headed to Xavier University of Louisiana this fall.
But dig a little deeper and you’ll soon see similarities. Both USM alumni are highly driven; both were raised in families that value hard work and education; and both hail from the same Milwaukee neighborhood. In addition, both were honored at the 34th Annual Black Excellence Awards in January.
The two first crossed paths at the Black Excellence Awards, where Weddle served as the keynote speaker and Smith attended as one of 11 recipients of the 2019 Louvenia Johnson Scholarship. In his keynote address, Weddle shared five principles he learned from his parents: value education, work hard, treat everyone with respect, don’t be afraid to fail, and have a plan. “For me, I was able to navigate my education as a minority at both USM and UW-Madison because of the strong values, character, and pride that my parents instilled in me,” he said. “They allowed me to navigate those communities, which were different from the community where I grew up.”
Although they graduated 43 years apart, both recognize the value of their USM education. “If it weren’t for USM setting that academic foundation for me, I would not have had the success that I’ve had,” said Weddle. Added Smith, “I liked how the USM faculty were very hands-on, and they were always available if I needed extra help with anything.” And while USM fosters an inclusive community and embraces diversity in all its forms, race has not been something either dwells on. “For me, I am who I am no matter where I live or go to school,” said Smith. Added Weddle, “I’ve found that, fundamentally in terms of my journey, race has been less significant. Not to say I haven’t experienced racism, but I tend to classify people into two groups: either good or bad. And neither have anything to do with race.”