Graduates reflect on their shared intellectual journeys at UChicago

Class Day ceremony honors accomplishments of College students, while looking toward future

University of Chicago students from the Class of 2023 shared messages of congratulations and pride as they gathered on June 2 for the College’s Class Day ceremony. The kickoff to Convocation, the event honored the unique accomplishments and contributions of graduating fourth-year students. 

The celebration on the Main Quadrangles included speeches from three students. In his address, Ricky Holder cited the official motto of the University, translated from Latin to read: “Let knowledge grow from more to more; and so be human life enriched.” 

The motto, Holder said, represents more than a simple slogan, but rather a challenge to use one’s education to better the world around them, directed toward anyone fortunate enough to have earned a UChicago degree. 

“The growth of knowledge doesn’t cease once our degree is conferred,” he said. “More importantly, the enrichment of human life doesn’t occur automatically. We must be the agents of this enrichment. And we do this by serving others.

“If we each embrace our obligation to serve, if we each engage in the collective endeavor of moving these small stones through our daily acts of service, the task of moving the mountain, enriching humanity, becomes infinitely easier.”

Fellow graduating students Daphne de Beistegui and Jeremy Huang joined Holder in reflecting fondly on their experiences and personal growth during their years at UChicago. 

de Beistegui said that for all of the learning she has done as a student, she has realized after four years that there is always so much more left to learn – if one remains attentive to the world around them. 

“A UChicago education is not like an expedition to exotic academic lands – rather, it is a journey into the details of what was right under your nose all along,” de Beistegui said. “It simply asks you to pay attention to what’s already there – to the world in which you are immersed – for we see only what we pay attention to.”

In his speech, Huang discussed how his time in the College has taught him how to weather trials and turn them into triumphs. All of the hours spent in Regenstein Library, he said, have culminated in the ultimate formative period. 

“It is the act of conquering the lows that teach us the life lessons,” he said. “It's through the fires of our midnight coffee breaks that study groups were forged into friendships. It’s through the treadmill of never-ending assignments that our academic interests evolved into our lifelong passions.”

Bret Stephens, AB’95, delivered the ceremony’s keynote address. A New York Times opinion columnist, Stephens won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 for his column examining foreign policy and domestic politics. In his speech, Stephens congratulated the Class of 2023 for not only earning a degree from UChicago, but also gaining the capacity and courage to think for themselves in the process. 

“Discussing and debating and interrogating and doubting and laughing and thinking harder and better than you ever did before isn’t the antithesis of fun, it’s the essence of it,” he said. “They make up the uniquely joyful experience of being authentically and expressively and unashamedly yourself and, at the same time, having a form of honest and intimate contact with others who, in their own ways, are being authentically and expressively and unashamedly themselves.”

In his remarks, Stephens also recognized the impact of the late Robert J. Zimmer, the former UChicago president and chancellor, for his dedication to defending free expression. 

Stephens said Zimmer believed "that a serious education is impossible except in an environment of unfettered intellectual challenge—an environment that, in turn, isn’t possible without the opportunity to encounter people and entertain views with whom and with which you might profoundly disagree."

Stephens encouraged the Class of 2023 to remember and uphold the Chicago Principles of free and open inquiry, which Zimmer helped establish and John W. Boyer championed throughout his tenure as College dean. 

“To John Boyer ... I want to salute you for everything you’ve done to make the College so much better, while preserving what always made it great: the conviction that, to think clearly, we must be able to speak freely; that, to disagree intelligently, we must first understand the views of our opponents profoundly; that, to change people’s minds, we must be open to the possibility that our minds might be changed. 

“All of this asks us to listen charitably, argue candidly, consider deeply, examine and re-examine everything, above all our own deeply held convictions.”

In his final Class Day as dean, Boyer presented the Llewellyn John and Harriet Manchester Quantrell Awards, believed to be the nation’s oldest prize for undergraduate teaching. 

As part of the ceremony, in recognition of his dedication to his leadership and academic achievements, Holder was presented with the inaugural Hugo F. Sonnenschein Award of Excellence. The highest honor to be bestowed upon undergraduates in the College, the award is named after the late 11th president of UChicago, who cared deeply about the University’s capacity to serve society.

“By conferring this award, we celebrate his legacy of leadership and recognize one graduating student whose character and deeds embody the University's foundational commitment to the direct and active betterment of society at large,” said Boyer, who presented the award to Holder. 

Class Day was part of a week of Convocation-related activities across the University and its divisions and schools. The University-wide Convocation ceremony will be held on June 3, and diploma ceremonies in the divisions and schools take place on the same day across campus.