Class of 2024 learns ‘three little secrets to change the world’

Convocation speakers encourage UChicago graduates to embrace change, their unique skills and the struggle for truth

1,517 days ago, Prof. John List first met the University of Chicago’s Class of 2024. It was over Zoom, under a cloud of uncertainty, as COVID-19 kept high school graduations confined to students’ homes. 

Four years later, the renowned economist addressed graduates gathered June 1 on the Main Quadrangles to celebrate UChicago’s 538th Convocation.

“You have experienced Chicago life like no other class. You have conquered it,” said the pioneering economist. 

President Paul Alivisatos welcomed the Class of 2024, asking them to “reflect upon the traditions that bind us as a community of scholars.”

During his remarks, Alivisatos invoked the words of the late John Dewey, a renowned UChicago education reformer and philosopher: “Cease conceiving of education as mere preparation for later life; make it the full meaning of the present life.”

Alivisatos congratulated graduates on their academic achievements, but also urged them to see their degrees as milestones on a lifelong journey of education and betterment.

“The lifelong process of searching, of struggling for truth—it is something that you have unlocked with your UChicago education,” Alivisatos said. 

What does it take to change the world?   

With such a large crowd at his fingertips at Convocation, List couldn’t help but ask graduates to join one of his renowned field experiments. “It is for science!” the behavioral economist proclaimed, instructing the Class of 2024 to scan a QR code to participate. 

During his Convocation remarks, List, the Kenneth C. Griffin Distinguished Service Professor in Economics, channeled his economic expertise to give “three little secrets” on the one thing many graduates want most: how to change the world.

The first piece of advice from List was for graduates to embrace their “comparative advantage,” or unique skill set. As an example, he recalled his first lecture at UChicago, when List was peppered with piercing questions from a man clad in a hospital gown. List later learned that person was Nobel laureate Gary Becker, who had convinced doctors to allow him to attend so he could help with List’s scholarship.

“Never forget one economic truism: Those with brilliant uniqueness will be in constant demand,” List said.

List also flew in the face of conventional wisdom by encouraging graduates to quit more. For List, “optimal quitting” is not about giving up your goals, but changing the methods needed to achieve them. 

“I urge you, in good times and bad, to sample constantly and explore your opportunity set in life,” he said, “whether it’s an idea, a job, an apartment or even the city where you live.”  

List credits the final secret to UChicago’s culture of “extreme curiosity” and renowned Core curriculum. “You have learned how to think, not what to think,” he said.

List encouraged graduates to use these critical thinking skills and remain constantly curious. “In this world, we are usually celebrated for what we know. You have learned to appreciate what you don’t know,” he said. 

“Changemakers are people whose inner scientist is never satiated. …Take that inner scientist to the world, not only in your job but in life.”  

College celebrates Class Day 

Convocation weekend began on May 31 with the Class Day celebration, which recognized the accomplishments of College graduates. Fourth-year students Arushi Mukherjee, Blessing Nnate and Nell Rydzewski delivered remarks along with Heidi Heitkamp, former U.S. senator and director of UChicago’s Institute of Politics.

In their remarks, students looked back at their time at UChicago, and the communities built over the past four years.

Mukherjee reflected on the journey that brought the Class of 2024 to this point—and the mark left by her extraordinary peers along the way.

“It is impossible to appreciate and understand an ending without having gone on the journey before it,” said Mukherjee. “We have arrived at this moment because of the time we spent growing up here together. As we look back on all the ‘unprecedented times’ we conquered and who we did it with, we should celebrate the journey we have gone on.”

UChicago honors

In addition to the degrees awarded to this year’s graduates, the University awarded honorary doctorates to two renowned scholars. Randall Kennedy, the Michael R. Klein Professor at Harvard Law School, received the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws; and Bernd Sturmfels, Professor Emeritus of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science at the University of California, Berkeley, received the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Science. 

The University also recognized the faculty winners of this year’s Llewellyn John and Harriet Manchester Quantrell Awards for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching and the Faculty Awards for Excellence in Graduate Teaching and Mentoring.