Class Day kicks off Convocation

Ceremony includes speeches by Valerie Jarrett, graduates

The University of Chicago’s Convocation weekend began with Class Day on Friday, with speakers encouraging graduates of the College to thank those who helped, rely on the heart and not just the head, and support institutions as well as hold them accountable.

Invited speaker Valerie Jarrett, a distinguished senior fellow in the University of Chicago Law School, congratulated the Class of 2018 while also reminding them of the responsibilities that come with attending a top university.

“Use your voices to stand up for core values. You must commit to do this, not only when there is a chorus with you and it is easy, but when you are the first to speak up and it is hard,” said Jarrett, the longest-serving senior adviser to President Barack Obama.

Jarrett encouraged students to listen to their inner voice to discover a satisfying life, but that once they found that voice, to recognize their responsibility to challenge the status quo.

Citing a number of recent forms of activism, including the students of the Parkland, Florida school shooting and the #MeToo movement, Jarrett stressed the importance of working toward positive change. “Figure out ways to be a force for good in society, not just for yourself,” Jarrett said.

In her speech, Jarrett also encouraged graduates to support the work of institutions, from universities to government, especially those in which students had lost faith. “You do not need to forget your ability to hold them accountable, but please don’t abandon them–make them better,” Jarrett said.

Each year, three student speakers are selected by their fellow graduates of the College. Their remarks touched upon on topics ranging from giving thanks to family and friends to a surprising mediation on the value of nothingness.

Priscilla Daboni questioned the meaning of success and reminded graduates to not just rely on their brains to live a fulfilling life. “You can quote philosophers like Rousseau, Marx and Fanon by heart, but if you can’t use your heart in how you maneuver the world then your quotes and degrees and your credentials mean nothing,” she said.

Mark Meyer chose to use his speech to discuss the “negative spaces” that were filled with value thanks to the graduates before him. “The buildings that surround us are gorgeous, but they ended up not meaningfully contributing to the feeling, the vibe, of our campus. It was all of you,” he said, that made the University “magnificent.” 

Andrea Popova thanked her parents, Bulgarian immigrants who came to the United States with only $100, for the opportunities they had given her. She urged graduates to thank all those who had helped them get to graduation. “The sky is the limit. Thank you to everyone who has handed us a ladder and gotten us that much closer to it,” she said.

Class Day offered a chance to recognize students for their academic and athletic achievements, and also honored faculty with the Llewellyn John and Harriet Manchester Quantrell Awards for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.

John W. Boyer, dean of the College, presented the Quantrell Awards, which began 80 years ago as the first teaching awards at the University in 1937 through an endowment from Ernest Quantrell, an alum and member for the board of trustees.

Boyer quoted from Quantrell’s original message to then-UChicago president Robert Maynard Hutchins, that the “purpose of the award is to interest teachers in training not only scholars and research workers, but also young men and women for intelligent and public-spirited participation and leadership in business, civic and professional life.” 

The University-wide Convocation ceremony will be held Saturday from 9:15 to 11 a.m. and webcast live. Later that day, the College and graduate divisions and schools will hold individual ceremonies in which diplomas will be presented.