Convocation welcomes Class of 2022 into a ‘special community’

Graduates encouraged to use ‘questioning UChicago style’ to help others, make society better

Four decades after his own graduation from the University of Chicago, President Paul Alivisatos stood in front of the Class of 2022 and asked them to look around.

“You are part of an utterly remarkable and very special community: University of Chicago alums,” Alivisatos, AB’81, told his audience.

Delivering his first year-end Convocation speech as president, Alivisatos reflected on the unique characteristics of the University community—one that encourages a path of lifelong learning and discovery. A transformative UChicago education, he said during Saturday’s University-wide ceremony, is something that leaves a distinctive mark long after a person leaves campus.

“You’ll recognize each other instantly, even if you are generations apart,” said Alivisatos, who returned to campus last fall to begin his tenure as president. “There’s a way of thinking that will spark connections that will amaze and inspire you, just as it has done for me for more than 40 years.”

On a cool morning on the Main Quadrangles, Alivisatos joined the Class of 2022 in a celebration that followed two years of challenges—from remote learning, to social upheaval, to personal struggles with health and wellbeing. Alivisatos commended the students for their resilience and asked them to also remember the families, friends, mentors and neighbors who helped them along their way.

He also asked them to apply the principles of intellectual discovery to help bring about meaningful change, both in their own lives and the lives of others.

“As you bring the brainy, questioning UChicago style to your future endeavors, I’m confident that you’ll also bring the heart of the engaged University of Chicago as well—our collective commitment to help others and to make our society a better one,” Alivisatos said.

The Convocation ceremony was part of a three-day celebration that also included Class Day, which recognizes the accomplishments of College graduates, along with diploma ceremonies in the University’s schools and divisions. Bestselling author Samira Ahmed, AB’93, MAT’93, spoke at Class Day on Friday, along with fourth-year students David Liang, Zara Malik and Allison Mattessich.

Jacob Wolf, a fourth-year who majored in physics, chemistry and molecular engineering, was excited to participate in Convocation following the stress and uncertainty of recent years. He hopes to soon work as a software engineer. “Things feel normal again, and that’s good,” Wolf said.

Danny Michael, who received a master’s degree from the Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy and Practice, talked about how proud he felt—both for himself and his fellow graduates. He is currently considering offers to work as a clinical counselor or psychotherapist.

In addition to the Class of 2022, this year’s ceremony welcomed graduates from 2020 and 2021. Among those who returned was Zhaodi Pan, SM’16, PhD’20, now a physicist and fellow at the UChicago-affiliated Argonne National Laboratory. Two years after watching his virtual Convocation ceremony while holding his baby, Pan relished the opportunity to celebrate in person.

“I really enjoy being here,” said Pan, who is now conducting research on the cosmic microwave background, the oldest light in the universe.

The University-wide Convocation ceremony on Saturday included remarks from Prof. Wendy L. Freedman, this year’s faculty speaker. A renowned cosmologist who led the team that made a landmark measurement in 2001 of the Hubble constant—the rate at which the universe is expanding—Freedman began her speech by outlining a brief history of the universe, along with our attempts to understand it.

From Copernicus and Galileo, to UChicago alumni Edwin Hubble and Carl Sagan, to today’s Giant Magellan Telescope, our winding scientific journey to understanding the stars helped illustrate Freedman’s advice for graduates: “Resist the comfort of a static worldview.”

“The universe, dynamic and evolving, continues to surprise us,” she said. “We need to be prepared for, and receptive to change. Continually and critically examine your own assumptions and preconceptions.

“You leave the University of Chicago uniquely prepared to remain open as you seek answers to complex questions, to ask—and to keep asking—whether you are even asking the right questions, to sift through contradictory ideas, to express your ideas respectfully, and to listen with respect as others express theirs.”

In addition to the degrees awarded to this year’s graduates, the University awarded honorary doctorates to four distinguished scholars: Cora Diamond, a philosopher at the University of Virginia; Katherine H. Freeman, an organic biogeochemist at Pennsylvania State University; Mercedes García-Arenal, a historian at the Spanish National Research Council; and Nergis Mavalvala, an astrophysicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The University also recognized the faculty winners of this year’s Llewellyn John and Harriet Manchester Quantrell Awards for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching—believed to be the nation’s oldest prize for undergraduate teaching—and the Faculty Awards for Excellence in Graduate Teaching and Mentoring.

—This story includes contributions from Dave Fisch.