Meet the speakers who will welcome President Paul Alivisatos during inauguration

Remarks will highlight the breadth of the University community

For nearly a century, presidential inaugurations have served as opportunities for the UChicago community to come together and rededicate itself to the University's founding values, while also charting new directions. 

For the inauguration of President Paul Alivisatos on Oct. 29, speakers will offer welcome remarks on behalf of UChicago faculty, staff, students, alumni and the local community—highlighting the University’s many facets and its interconnectedness with the South Side of Chicago.

Learn more about the people who will speak at Rockefeller Memorial Chapel below:

Faculty speaker: Eve L. Ewing

Eve L. Ewing is an assistant professor in the Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy and Practice. She is a sociologist of education whose work has focused on the impact of racism and social inequality in K–12 public school systems, and how school communities can help interrupt and dismantle such problems. 

Ewing is the author of Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago’s South Side. An examination of the 2013 mass closings of Chicago Public Schools, the book received the 2020 Laing Award, the top honor given annually by the University of Chicago Press.

Ewing, AB’08, has written two poetry collections, Electric Arches and 1919, as well as the Marvel comic series Ironheart. Her work has also been published by major news organizations, including the New York Times and The Atlantic. Her latest book is Maya and the Robot, a novel for young readers.

Student speaker: Vish Venkataraman

Vish Venkataraman is a fifth-year Ph.D. student in integrative biology. He studies the evolution and development of sensory systems and their relationship to the evolutionary morphology of vertebrates; in the lab, he studies the development of zebrafish and skates from embryos and combines this with information from the fossil record of early vertebrates. He has a long-standing interest in the relationship between science and philosophy, as well as in South Asian languages and literature, particularly Tamil and Sanskrit. 

As the speaker representing students, he said, his remarks will carry the theme of listening. “A university is like a symphony, composed of thousands of voices—some harmonious, some dissonant—and the university’s intellectual life is the net result of all of these voices,” he said. “All symphonies need a listener; the role of the president is to listen and uplift and add his own voice to the symphony.”

Venkataraman received his undergraduate degree in biology from the University of California, Berkeley, and his M.Sc. in paleobiology at the University of Bristol.

Staff speaker: Jennifer Kennedy

This past September, Jennifer Kennedy, AB’02, marked 19 years as a University staff member. She began her career working as an undergraduate financial assistant at the Reynolds Club, and has served as the inaugural director of the UChicago Student Centers since 2018.

Kennedy oversees several centers for student life, including the Reynolds Club, Mandel Hall, Ida Noyes Hall, four student-run coffee shops and the Pub. Through her various duties, she helps students and RSOs think creatively about how to create a sense of community and belonging on campus.

“While I’m usually more comfortable supporting events from behind the scenes, I’m proud to represent the staff at UChicago at this historic event,” Kennedy said. “Staff make up a large portion of the UChicago community and are a talented and dedicated group. Over the past 20 months alone, the collaboration and creativity of the staff at UChicago has been key to our success as an institution, and I’m proud to be given the chance to highlight their good work.”

Alumni speaker: Margaret Mueller

Margaret Mueller, AM’97, is the president and chief executive officer of the Executives’ Club of Chicago, and the president of the University of Chicago Alumni Board. She considers herself a social scientist at heart—something shaped by the intellectual home she found at UChicago.

“I am honored to represent the alumni community on this momentous occasion as we welcome fellow alum, President Alivisatos, as our next president,” Mueller said. “We could not envision anyone better suited to lead the University at this pivotal moment in time and into the future. His humanist perspective, brilliant scientific mind and varied world experience will serve the University community well.”

A graduate of the Master of Arts Program in the Social Sciences, Mueller credits her MAPSS education for guiding her academic and professional journey. As president and CEO, she drives the strategic vision and execution of how the Executives’ Club of Chicago delivers on its mission of connecting, developing and growing the Chicago region’s business leaders.

Mueller has taught and advised students at the Booth School of Business, is a frequent judge in the New Venture Challenge, and remains engaged with MAPSS and the University overall in many other capacities.

Community speaker: Julian DeShazier

Rev. Julian DeShazier is the senior pastor at the University Church of Chicago, located just steps from the UChicago campus. For more than a decade, he has sought to make the church an instrumental part of the community’s most important conversations.

In 2017, Crain’s Chicago Business named DeShazier to its 40 under 40 list—recognizing his advocacy for the opening of a South Side trauma center, and his role on the University of Chicago Medicine’s community advisory council.

“This occasion is more than ornamental; it is a precious opportunity for us to transition, in various ways, and I’m honored to share with and on behalf of the wider community,” said DeShazier, a Chicago native and a 2010 graduate of the University of Chicago Divinity School.

DeShazier is also an accomplished musician. Performing as the rapper J.Kwest, he contributed to a short film inspired by Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit.” The video, which shared its title with the 1939 song, won a 2015 Lower Great Lakes Emmy Award.