The first Hugo F. Sonnenschein Medal of Excellence was presented on Class Day to Ricky Holder, AB’23. Named in honor of the University of Chicago’s 11th president, it recognizes one graduating student whose character and deeds embody the University's foundational commitment to the direct and active betterment of society at large.
The award seeks to inspire an ethos of engagement that further strengthens the University’s service to local, national and international communities.
On April 30, 1996, then-University President Sonnenschein issued a challenge to the University community in the form of a letter calling on the institution to expand its undergraduate student population.
UChicago graduates, he argued, had a responsibility to effect meaningful change in the world through “hope, respected leadership and thoughtful citizenship.” Sonnenschein’s conviction was that by expanding and enhancing undergraduate education, the University would advance the “profound worth” of transformative, liberal arts education beyond its own walls.
That vision is now recognized through a new award that bears his name. The Hugo F. Sonnenschein Medal of Excellence is the highest honor bestowed upon an undergraduate in recognition of the same qualities of its namesake: unwavering hope, ambition for others and an abiding courage of conviction.
Investments in student life
Sonnenschein supported systematic efforts to strengthen the College, including many new investments in student life and the reform of the venerable Core Curriculum in 1998 to create more elective opportunities for third- and fourth-year students. The new Core created greater flexibility for students to follow their diverse academic and experiential interests, and aligned with Sonnenschein’s view that “a student’s life encompasses more than their coursework.”
Sonnenschein’s willingness and determination to advance systemic, structural change stemmed from his belief in UChicago’s potential to make a global impact. “A primary purpose of academic leadership is to guide a university to appreciate its strengths, to examine what it can do better, and to help it to serve society,” Sonnenschein told the Rochester Review in 2017. “We are expected to lead the cheers, but we must also hold up a mirror. Great universities need to be challenged.”
Hugo Sonnenschein was "a transformational leader who championed the College and cared deeply about the University’s unique ability to serve the world,” said John W. Boyer, dean of the College, while presenting the inaugural medal. “With this award, we recognize one graduating student whose character and actions embody the College’s foundational commitment to the direct and active betterment of society.”