‘We’ve found ourselves at the finish line, together’

College students honored for their resilience at 2021 Class Day ceremony

University of Chicago undergraduate students shared messages of congratulations and pride as they gathered virtually on June 11 for the College’s Class Day ceremony. The annual event during Convocation honors the unique accomplishments and contributions of the Class of 2021. 

Justine Shih, one of the celebration’s three student speakers, reflected upon the resilience of her fellow graduates over the past four years. Their experiences through the unique, often difficult, times she said, will serve them well as they move forward.

‘‘I think it is through challenge that we learn of the meaningfulness of some things, from the journeys that were unpaved or uphill, but we took anyway,” said Shih, a neuroscience and music major. “Maybe you’ll think of the test you failed, but the relationship you forged with a professor or TA through getting their help, and the RSO event that went far from perfect, but created a stronger bond between members, and the friendships that were born out of shared difficulties.’’

Class Day was part of a week of Convocation-related activities across the University and its divisions and schools. The University-wide Convocation ceremony was held virtually on June 9, and diploma ceremonies in the divisions and schools will take place both in-person and virtually throughout the weekend. 

Fellow fourth-year students Rodrigo Estrada and Emily Robb joined Shih in reflecting on the strong character of the Class of 2021 and the value of the lifelong friendships they’ve made at UChicago.

“Time and time again, our class has paved the way for others to become connected, recognizing that a community is only as strong as the connections within it,” said Estrada, who is graduating with a bachelor’s in economics and master’s in international relations. “Confronting the tremendous divides before us requires sharing ideas, finding common ground and using what is right with the world to remedy what is wrong with it.”

Robb, a philosophy and political science major, encouraged her classmates to share this moment with friends and loved ones who have supported them along the way. 

“Think about your cheerleaders who have held their breath for you to be here today,” she said. “You’ve made them proud by running the most exploratory marathon of them all, meandering through confusion at some points, picking up the pace at others and adapting to the challenges you’ve encountered in unforeseen turns. Somehow, we’ve found ourselves at the finish line, all together, a little bit tired and a tad nervous for what’s next.”

John W. Boyer, dean of the College, said this year’s graduates should take “profound satisfaction” in their accomplishments in the face of a historically challenging year.

“The entrance of COVID-19 commenced a period of uncertainty that most of us will remember sharply for the rest of our lives,” he remarked during the ceremony. “I know that each of you has your own story of the pandemic, and the struggle to contain and think past it, while committing to the pursuit of knowledge and civic leadership that brought you to the College, has been a great test, both individually and communally. But the world that will benefit from your insight and engagement becomes brighter and more hopeful with every passing week.”

Rep. Andy Kim, AB’04, delivered the ceremony’s keynote address. First elected to Congress in 2018, Kim discussed how his time at UChicago helped him understand his sense of responsibility to serve on behalf of others. 

“[Service is] about our fundamental connections with the people around us,” he said. “It’s not just some job that you do 9 to 5, and you hang up your hat at the end of the day. It’s something that is intrinsic within us. I feel blessed to have learned these lessons at UChicago.”

As the Class of 2021 prepares to enter post-graduate life, Kim urged the students to maintain meaningful relationships with their classmates and the alumni network: “The broader community has really been there for me in times of need, the good and bad. That’s what makes it a community. In these historic moments, it’s important that we recognize that we’re not alone.

“I hope today gives you that sense that you're part of something bigger than all of us, and that your accomplishments are real,” he added. “They’re meaningful, and they are going to propel you forward into this new era with a tremendous amount of momentum.”

—A version of this story was originally published on the University of Chicago College website