Student Commencement Speeches, 2013

Speeches delivered by the three student speakers for the Class of 2013 at UChicago's 515th Convocation on Saturday, June 15.
Photo by: 
Robert Kozloff

To learn more about each of the student speakers, check out "Voices of Convocation."

AMARA UGWU, Public Policy Studies

President Zimmer, Dean Boyer, distinguished faculty, families, and fellow graduates, good morning. My name is Amara Ugwu and I represent one of the many voices of this graduating Class of 2013.

Frederick Douglass, abolitionist and author, noted that "if there is no struggle, there is no progress," and I am sure that we can all attest to the validity of this statement, whether it was struggling through genetics, life away from home, or the Chicago winters. As a result of the various challenges we have faced, we all have become stronger, more refined, and more intelligent versions of ourselves. Today, as we gather with family, friends, and faculty to commemorate the past four years and to reminisce about our formative college experiences, let us reflect on who we have become and who we can become.

This Convocation ceremony is important because tomorrow we will be graduates of the University of Chicago. Tomorrow we will be among the few who were privileged enough to walk this Quad, to partake in the UChicago Core, and among the few young adults around the world with a bachelor's degree.

Right now the question is, how do we move forward? What does it mean to be good stewards of the education we have been privy to?

First, we must acknowledge those who helped make our college experience possible. Today, as we prepare to move toward the future, it is pertinent that we hold fast to our support networks—those who have encouraged and grounded us throughout the years. Parents, families, friends, and mentors, I take this moment to thank you! We ask that you continue to support us as we embark on our future endeavors.

Like many of my classmates, I came to the University of Chicago because I desired a college experience that would challenge me. Fellow classmates, we did not choose the University of Chicago because it was easy. Why then should we look for a life of comfort and ease after receiving our diplomas and plunging into the "real world"?

We have a responsibility to our communities, to our world, no matter our majors or aspirations. Whether we are in medicine, finance, or academia, we must not solely focus on selfish ideals, prestige, or aspirations of grandeur—rather, we must challenge ourselves to be civically engaged. Life after college should not be about living sedentary or quiet lives. The challenge is to take these past four years, the connections made, the unique passions, to take this degree and to do something relevant and positive with it.

Eight years ago, when my family and I emigrated from Jamaica to the United States, I had no idea I would end up at a school like the University of Chicago. As Nigerians, my parents valued education, even when the means were very limited. But it was with the help of people like my high school’s Miss Brown, who dedicated herself to teaching at an urban public school, that I made it. I am here by the aid of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, because a man pursued his passion but used his influence and money to make an impact on the lives of others. I am here because of a medical doctor from Stanford University who created the Questbridge Program, helping high achieving, low-income students attend top universities. I am here because of people, much like you and I, who decided to make an impact in the world with the means and mind that they had.

Today is our last day as undergraduates, and as we prepare for our future, as we move into tomorrow, let us hold fast to the words of Frederick Douglass, remembering that "if there is no struggle, there is no progress," and that progress in our own communities, in our world, can only happen when brilliant minds like us decide to become engaged.

Thank you.

RAHUL ROY, Economics

As someone who feels like he didn't know what the hell he was doing over these past four years, or why he was doing it; as someone who actually wanted to transfer OUT of this school during his first year; and as someone who can barely speak to one person, let alone 2,000 people, I feel like I’m probably the LAST person who should be up here, at this podium, delivering a speech at his college diploma ceremony ....

But, here I am, so instead of giving you the kind of speech that tries to inspire, or empower, or impart wisdom, I decided to write something a little less serious ... a little more "UNCOMMON," you could say. After all, this is the approach I used when writing the essay that got me into this university, so it's only fitting that I leave it in a similar fashion. It's a poem, that might sound a little familiar if you're a fan of '90s teen movies. It's called "10 Things I Hate About UChicago."


I hate the way your brochures convinced me
that you were the perfect place

I hate how I learned so much,
Yet feel like I've retained so little, barely a trace

I hate how I felt like you marooned me
In a boring bubble in the South Side

I hate that all the hair-pulling all-nighters you had me spend at the Reg
Have rendered my brain forever fried

I hate how your stimulating discussion seminars
Forced me to learn through participation

I hate how almost every paper you had me painstakingly write
Was basically just another opportunity for mental masturbation

I hate how stupid and average I felt
In the company of all of my amazing peers

I hate how morbidly depressed your long, cold winters made me feel,
So much so that I disposed most of my income on beers

I hate how four years just flew by,
As if it wasn't that long ago when we first arrived here in the fall

But mostly, I hate the way I don't hate you, UChicago. Not even close. Not even a little bit. Not even at all.

(a beat)

Well, at this point I should be running off the stage crying, but honestly, I think I did enough of that during all my episodes of existential melodrama over these past four years—my sister, parents, and roommates can attest to this.

Honestly, when I sat down to reflect on my college experience, my dominant feeling … was that of regret.

I hate to say it, but I totally took this school, this rare place and moment in our lives that has inspired so much love and so much hate, for granted. Indeed, love and hate, on their own, are pretty boring, binary feelings. But together, in simultaneous tandem, they form bittersweetness, which is rich, complicated, and powerful.

Today, I encourage you all to let your guard down—because I know for a fact that I've kept mine up for far too long—and to really embrace and savor this feeling, the feeling of the day, this day we've been downplaying the significance of for so long.

Let it take over. Let it sink in.

(a beat)


JONATHAN GRABINSKY, Professional Option: Public Policy Studies

Hello everyone, my name is Jonathan Grabinsky.

The other day I was sitting outside my apartment on 54th Street waiting for the bus. I was carrying a backpack that was heavier than usual and wearing a pair of jeans that had absorbed the strong and strangely comforting odor of the fifth floor cubicles of the Reg.

After a couple of minutes, the 171 bus showed up. Unfortunately for me, it was 10:15 a.m. aka "University of Chicago student rush hour."

I pushed and got pushed, feeling both a sense of community for sharing a bus with my fellow students but also a strong rivalry as I competed with them for the precious and limited seating space.

This is probably what life after college is going to be like, I thought.

Stepping into the world outside of college will be like stepping onto the 171 bus at 10:15 a.m.—it is going to be slow, it is going to be crowded, and it is going to be very competitive.

The University of Chicago prides itself on sculpting the minds of students in a way that allows us to handle the most theoretical and abstract concepts. And like most students here, I take pride in belonging to such an institution.

But faced with an uncertain future, some of us wonder: Why did I spend four years learning all of this theory, four years learning about Foucault, about the delta-epsilon definition of a limit, if, at the end of the day, I do not have a set of skills that are transferable into the labor market? And believe that these doubts, these concerns, although valid, emerge from a distorted understanding of what the College is about.

I believe the theoretical education provided by the College is, in essence, a skills-based education. And let me tell you why: First, as conceptual thinkers, we are great problem-solvers. When faced with a challenge, we will use both our skepticism and our knowledge to dig into the roots of the issue and tackle the problem from the center outward.

Second, as conceptual thinkers, we can easily empathize with individuals who hold different views. We can be more empathetic because, after having been exposed to the various conflicting explanations of the world, from philosophy to economics, from biology to religion, we know that no such thing as an absolute truth exists, but that instead the world is a tug of war between many equally valuable realities.

And so when given an opportunity, we will voice our opinions, but we will do so humbly. So that when faced with an argument, instead of saying "the truth is," we will say "some narratives propose"; instead of saying "the facts are," we will say "the evidence suggests"; and instead of saying "you're wrong," we will cite the wisdom of one of the greatest intellectuals of the 20th century, Jeffrey "The Dude" Lebowski, and we will say "you're not wrong" but "yeah, well, you know, that's just, like, your opinion, man."

Third, as conceptual thinkers, our capacity to absorb new material comes naturally. And this is perhaps one of the greatest gifts we take with us from the College: as conceptual thinkers, we know the right questions to ask, so that anything we don't know, we can learn.

Stepping into the world outside college will be like stepping onto the 171 bus at 10:15 a.m.—it is going to be slow, it is going to be crowded, and it is going to be very competitive.

But as University of Chicago graduates, as conceptual thinkers, I think we have a good set of skills—and that should help us find our way around the bus.

Thank you, gracias, and congratulations, Class of 2013!

To see the speakers deliver their speeches during Convocation, check out the UChicago News video.

Tagged: Convocation, graduation, speeches, student speakers, commencement