Nelson said those experiences in Europe informed Arendt’s intimate understanding of pain and interpersonal connection: “[Arendt] knew that suffering itself—from a pandemic, from economic dislocation, from war and violence—deprived people of the resilience they needed to engage with others in making a common world.”
Even during a pandemic, Nelson continued, universities can help create a “world in common,” exposing students to diverse people and ideas. A transformative education from the University of Chicago can be a powerful tool, she said, one graduates can use to keep themselves open to new concepts and stay intellectually and politically engaged, ready to meet future collective challenges. “Sharing of the world is not an inborn talent,” Nelson said, but “a discipline and a habit of mind.”
“Changing your mind requires courage,” she added.
Students who arrive at UChicago quickly learn how much more interesting (and fun) it can be to listen to their classmates—to imagine something new together, rather than simply becoming better debaters, Nelson said. She encouraged the graduates to hold on to this “highly developed capacity” for sharing the world, and to make positive change in the wake of the pandemic.
“We lose something essential to living in a democracy when we lose contact with humanity in all its plurality,” she said. But rededicating ourselves to plurality should dovetail with compassion: The ability to listen to each other, Nelson added, is something we too often forget. She stressed that moving forward requires us to ask others: “What are you going through?”
The 534th Convocation ceremony was recorded on campus in May, in accordance with safety guidance from the CDC and state and local authorities.
In his remarks, Zimmer thanked graduates for their sacrifices to protect the health and well-being of others during the pandemic. He expressed hope that the UChicago community will soon be able to celebrate together again.