UChicago community celebrates Convocation

Weekend ceremonies honor educational achievement

Gathered on the Main Quadrangles to celebrate the result of an important choice in life, the University of Chicago’s Class of 2018 received advice on some of the decisions ahead. 

As an economist Prof. Marianne Bertrand has devoted a great deal of thought and study to choice. In her Convocation address, she shared some advice on future decisions that graduates will make, including in the workplace.

“Yes, you have a choice,” said Bertrand, the Chris P. Dialynas Distinguished Service Professor of Economics at UChicago’s Booth School of Business. “You can exert voice—be an active agent for cultural change when you see this culture lacking at your place of employment. You can also vote with your feet and exit if the culture is not right and not fixable.” 

Bertrand spoke before an estimated 9,000 family, friends and colleagues seated beneath a wet canopy of trees and umbrellas on the Main Quadrangles to celebrate the University’s 531st Convocation. The ceremony proceeded despite wet conditions, with more than 3,200 graduates receiving their degrees.

“It’s 90 back home, so we love this, actually,” said Santino Castillo, of Sacramento, California, who had traveled to see his son Alexander Portee receive his bachelor’s degree in biological science—the first college degree in the family.

Before the bagpipes sounded to start the ceremonial procession that begins Convocation, Lionel Jellins, from Houston, Texas, made all of his calculations to find the perfect location to photograph his son Daniel Jellins as he walked through the Quadrangles. 

“It means a whole, whole lot. It’s a big day,” said Jellins, whose son was graduating from the College and will attend UChicago Law School in the fall. 

In his remarks, President Robert J. Zimmer echoed the theme of choice and leadership going forward. 

“I know that, as graduates of this University, in the coming years you will be called upon to act, to speak and to lead. And like so many University of Chicago graduates who have come before you, you will approach this challenge of leadership empowered by your University of Chicago education,” he said.

As Convocation adjourned and broke into smaller ceremonies, the wet weather ended and the sun started to break through. Students around campus performed musical pieces, received diplomas and addressed fellow graduates. 

Student speaker Jamie Ehrlich, who was graduating with her political science degree and heading to a job with CNN Politics, reminded her fellow students in the Granville-Grossman Residential Commons West ceremony that the diploma they received is “more than just hardware.”

“It represents academic and social grit. It represents perseverance. It represents a thirst for knowledge that expands far past the confines of Hyde Park,” she said. “Sure, the gargoyles are cool and everything, but UChicago is far more about you, my friends and classmates, and what we experienced together.” 

At the morning ceremony, the University awarded five honorary degrees: to CERN director and physicist Fabiola Gianotti, groundbreaking nanoscientist Charles Lieber, ancient North Arabian civilization scholar Michael C.A. Macdonald, evolutionary ecology leader Robert Ricklefs and language evolution pioneer William S-Y. Wang. 

The University also awarded the Benton Medal for Distinguished Public Service to The Washington Post’s Martin Baron, who oversaw investigations into the Catholic Church abuse scandal highlighted in the film Spotlight, as well as NSA surveillance, Secret Service, and killings by the police, among others.

Also awarded during Convocation weekend were the Llewellyn John and Harriet Manchester Quantrell Awards for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, the Faculty Awards for Excellence in Graduate Teaching and Mentoring, and the Wayne C. Booth Graduate Student Prize for Excellence in Teaching.

Class Day kicks off Convocation weekend

Convocation weekend began Friday with Class Day, where speakers encouraged those graduating from the College to thank the people who helped them and to rely on the heart and not just the head.

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.

She 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 to speak on Class Day. 

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,” Popova said.