Mom, Daughter Were Commencement Speakers 25 Years Apart

Rebecca Slough in 1990 and Kylee (Slough) Deckert in 2015

In her 1990 student commencement address at Northern Michigan University, Rebecca Slough encouraged her fellow graduates “to lead with integrity, not because anyone is looking, but because it's who you are.” Twenty-five years later, her daughter Kylee (Slough) Deckert stood behind the podium, urging peers to approach the future with courage and “embrace success in all of its forms—not only what we achieve in our respective careers, but the type of people we become.” It is no surprise they expressed similar themes, because Kylee said her mom and dad instilled those qualities in their three children.

“My mom would tell us about the Northern speech she gave on integrity, and she definitely raised us with that,” said Kylee, a criminal justice graduate, during a phone interview. “She inspired me to audition as speaker. She didn't ask or encourage me to do it; I just thought it would be really cool to follow in her footsteps in that way and I felt I had a message worth sharing as well. It was a full-circle experience to talk about similar qualities she did that were ingrained in my life growing up. My parents are both such an inspiration to me.”

“I love public speaking and working with groups, so I tried out for student speaker and was excited I got it,” added Rebecca. “I remember near the end of my speech saying something like, ‘You may feel like you're a product of your environment, but I encourage you to make your environment a product of you.' It didn't really dawn on me until the day of Kylee's graduation that I was up there exactly 25 years earlier. It was amazing to watch her. She's a more polished speaker than I am, but it was a similar message.”

Rebecca was an economics major at NMU when she met future husband Bill Slough, a residence hall director who had earned a bachelor's in education and was pursuing a master's. They were married by the time she graduated. The couple fell in love with each other and the Marquette community. They resided in Ishpeming and began raising their family before moving to Wisconsin, but return each summer to their cabin in the area.

“I loved the economics program. It was excellent and fun, especially in the later years when it was a smaller group of the same people from your major in most of your classes. And I have a great story involving Dr. Donna Pearre [the first woman appointed NMU vice president of student affairs]. She asked me how I pronounced my last name and I said ‘Slough like cow' and she said, ‘No baby, it's Slough like wow!' I'll never forget that, and that's all I've ever used since.”

After graduating, Rebecca's career was bookended by positions in education. She started at a technical college in Grand Rapids, then shifted to independent contracting as the fiber optic, telecommunications and computer technologies began to merge. She ventured back to education, teaching high school economics. Rebecca now serves as a student learning advocate in the Green Bay Public Schools. Her husband Bill became a high school administrator and retired a couple of years ago.

“He actually got the chance to be Kylee's high school principal, which for some kids would be horrible, but for her it was amazing,” Rebecca said. “She would occasionally call him dad at school and he'd say, ‘No, it's Mr. Slough,' and she'd respond with a silly, ‘Okay, dad.' They had a great relationship.”

Bill's father also attended Northern and was inducted into the U.P. Sports Hall of Fame. Kylee continued the legacy, graduating in three years and paying her own way. 

“I saw the way my family members took so much pride in NMU and their experience there,” she said. “I toured a lot of other places and considered some big-name schools like Baylor, but NMU just felt like home and the natural choice. In Marquette, it feels like everything belongs to everybody—the lake, Sugarloaf, the campus. In Dallas, Texas, where I live now, it almost seems like everything belongs to someone else.

“I genuinely felt like I was part of a community, and I loved that I was able to grow, not only in my degree program, but as a whole person. I loved my time at NMU. I was a resident adviser and I made some great friends both on and off campus.”

After commencement, Kylee performed data analytics for a business consulting firm in Manhattan. She then moved to Dallas and put her criminal justice degree to work at a company that handles loss prevention and asset recovery for bank clients. Kylee moved up the ladder to assistant vice president of compliance and human resources before stepping down to raise and homeschool her and her husband's three children. The family plans two trips to the Upper Peninsula this summer.

NMU Alumni Relations received the images of the mother-daugher commencement speakers in response to a call for stories, reflections, photos and brief recordings that might be shared throughout the 125th anniversary year across various NMU platforms. Submissions are still welcome at (select “125th Anniversary” from the “Choose One” drop-down menu).

A recent photo of Kylee and Rebecca
A recent photo of Kylee and Rebecca
Prepared By

Kristi Evans
News Director

Categories: Alumni