Voices of Convocation

Student speakers share their thoughts on presentation prep, College memories, lessons learned, and the road ahead.
Photo by: 
Robert Kozloff

For full texts of the students' speeches, check out "Student Commencement Speeches."

AMARA UGWU, Public Policy Studies

Q: How did you react when you found out you had been selected from a pool of more than 70 students to give a speech at Commencement?

A: I was really surprised, but excited to write my final speech and to present it to the selection committee. I honestly had no idea that the application pool was that big .... Wow, I can't believe that many people wanted to speak!

Q: What was going through your mind as you stepped up to the podium to deliver your speech?

A: During the morning ceremony I had read a couple of Bible verses in Corinthians, and during lunch I had prayed, so by the afternoon I felt very calm. I really felt a sense of peace and excitement stepping up to the podium. Glenn [Carrere], who works in the CPO, kept reminding us during rehearsals that on that day everyone wanted us to succeed. I was really excited to give the speech, to address my peers, the families present, and the faculty. As someone who normally has stage fright, it was strange that I felt so comfortable. Also, I was thinking of the best time to thank God, [and] I decided to do it at the beginning of my speech.

Q: What was the most challenging aspect of preparing your Commencement speech?

A: The most challenging aspect was writing a speech that conveyed a message, a story, in under three minutes. The time was a real challenge, and it is interesting that my speech changed so much over the past four weeks! I really had to think: What do I want to hear in a speech? What do I want to say? And how do I say it in a way that is concise but relatable? I wanted to be honest about who I was, and what my UChicago experience had been.

Q: What do you hope people will take away from your speech, in 140 characters or fewer?

A: Take the challenge; live a life of integrity that is civically engaged!

Photo courtesy of Dan Dry

Q: What class, professor, or experience at UChicago are you going to remember most fondly?

A: Gosh, there have been so many! I will never forget Woody Carter or the Public Policy Studies practicum class I took with him. I won't forget Lianne Kurina who really inspired me with her work ethic and kindness. I won't forget "Morrison, Walker, Lorde," the English class I dropped SOSC to take! I won't forget the Art History class in Paris. I think Study Abroad in Paris during my third year, and the craziness of life away from home during my first year, are some of the most memorable, but honestly there are so many!

Q: Now that you've graduated from the College, what do you wish you had known when you first arrived at UChicago?

A: This place is a blessing; take it for all that it is. I wish I knew to stop planning and start living, to stop complaining and start enjoying this place and the amazing people who really make the University of Chicago what it is. I wish I had known that this place would shape not only who I am after four years, but who I want to be. But honestly, I am glad that I didn't know any of these things because they are all part of the college learning experience. I thank God for this place, for the opportunities, experiences, and possibilities that this place has offered me! I am going to miss being a student at the University of Chicago. 


RAHUL ROY, Economics

Q: What inspired you to seek nomination/apply to be one of the student speakers?

A: Honestly, I just wanted to have something to DO at graduation besides wait for my name to be called and then walk across a stage ... so I kind of romanticized this student speaker platform as an opportunity to disrupt the monotony, perhaps in some kind of radical, irreverent, immortalizing way (but mostly for me to have some fun). I didn't really have a noble reason for wanting to do it, like inspiring people or broadcasting some grand message. Also, it just feels good to be PICKED for something ... so I guess I was chasing that feeling, too.

Q: How did you react when you found out you had been selected from a pool of more than 70 students to give a speech at Commencement?

A: I can actually answer this with a Vine. In words: Yeah, I just couldn't believe it. I immediately called my sister, who has kind of been my primary source of moral support throughout college (I wasn't kidding about those "episodes of existential melodrama" and "crying"). She also introduced me to "10 Things I Hate About You" at a young age, which was, of course, my source of inspiration. By the way, I really hope my speech inspired people to revisit "10 Things." I actually, objectively think it's a great, well-written movie. My sister and I used to watch it religiously.

Q: What was going through your mind as you stepped up to the podium to deliver your speech?

A: I can also sort of answer this with a Vine (I know, I have a problem). But, again, in words: I was mostly focused on capturing the Vine, and wondering, in the back of my mind, how many old people (both behind me on-stage, and parents in the audience) were rolling their eyes and/or scowling in response to this. I was also really inspired by Amara's confidence and delivery (you'll notice in the Vine that she says "YOU GOT THIS" to me as she exits, which was awesome), so I think I was more energized and excited than nervous at that point.

Photo courtesy of Dan Dry

Q: What was the most challenging aspect of preparing your Commencement speech?

A: When I was trying to draft a speech to present to the committee, I was totally coming from a place of hate. Like, there was not a shred of positivity in the three pages of muddled, angsty, unfiltered, stream-of-consciousness thought-vomit I spewed during my first stab at it, the purpose of which was just to get my "feels" on the page. I've never written a speech before, so it felt really unnatural to me. I knew from the get-go that there was no way I could write and deliver a "standard" speech (i.e., one that panders with platitudes or expresses gratitude or looks back fondly). And then, at some point, the whole "10 Things" idea struck me, which I eventually went with because it afforded me a fun, lighthearted way to vent a love-hate attitude, which, upon further reflection, felt like a more accurate affective summation of my time here.

Q: What do you hope people will take away from your speech, in 140 characters or fewer?

A: "Courage."

Q: What class, professor, or experience at UChicago are you going to remember most fondly?

A: The Project (you know, that Patrick Jagoda-directed alternate reality game that ran on campus in April; there was a Grey City article about it). Definitely one of the weirdest things I've ever been involved with. It was such an absurd, ambitious, time-consuming, and self-destroying exercise in world-building, theater, and game design—it was like Scav (which I've never done), but with lofty narrative aspirations ... or something. Working with Concordia University's Topological Media Lab on the game's extravagant final event was also pretty mind-blowing. Stay tuned for the trailer and documentary!

Q: Now that you've graduated from the College, what do you wish you had known when you first arrived at UChicago?

A: I wish I had known more about myself? I dunno, it took me about 3.5 years to realize that media studies, specifically (video) game studies, was probably maybe what I should've been concentrating my studies on. ... But mostly I just wish I had spent these past four years enjoying my classes, something I ended up doing only rarely through my minor, and not worrying so much about securing a (soul-sucking) job … I also wish I knew about grants. It's pretty amazing how easily you can get the University to pay for things.


JONATHAN GRABINSKY, Professional Option: Public Policy Studies

Q: What inspired you to seek nomination/apply to be one of the student speakers?

A: It wasn't actually anything very purposeful or very planned. My roommate and I were sitting down in my apartment the night before the deadline, and he mentioned something about the College speaker nomination process. And so I said: "I should apply to speak at Convocation." It was a half-serious statement, but then my roommate said: "I'll nominate you." And he submitted a nomination on the spot. I wasn't really sure if anything would come out of it. But once I got a follow-up statement from the University telling me I had made it to the next round, I thought, OK, let's give this some more thought. And it was then that I started taking it more seriously and actually sat down to brainstorm ideas and write a draft.

Q: How did you react when you found out you had been selected from a pool of more than 70 students to give a speech at Commencement?

A: I was thrilled. The only person I shared the drafts of my speech with was my brother, and so I wasn't really sure if it was a good speech or if the delivery was good. But learning that I was selected was very gratifying because I had put a lot of time, and a lot of myself, into it. I've always been interested in speechwriting and speech delivery, and I also saw this as a great opportunity to put myself out there.

Q: What was going through your mind as you stepped up to the podium to deliver your speech?

A: Once I got to the podium I was more excited than nervous. But the days leading up to it were very nerve-racking. One minute I was OK and the next minute I was panicking. I woke up at 4 a.m. the day of graduation, not being able to sleep, and had to go to the gym for a run in order to release some stress. I mean, it is 7,000 people or so watching you, so screwing up is a pretty big deal. But once I stepped up to the podium and felt the energy of the place and the people, most of the nerves faded away.

Q: What was the most challenging aspect of preparing your Commencement speech?

A: The most challenging aspect was packaging the speech into three minutes. There is so much you're trying to say in so little time, and the time constraint really forces you to pick your words carefully. ... You also want to make sure that you can deliver your speech with the pauses and the speed it requires. So trying to write a powerful, well-written speech that transmits everything you want to say and can be well-delivered in three minutes or less is a very challenging process.

Photo courtesy of Dan Dry

Q: What do you hope people will take away from your speech, in 140 characters or fewer?

A: First, life outside the College is going to be challenging; second, the theoretical education of the College had made us superior thinkers and better human beings.

Q: What class, professor, or experience at UChicago are you going to remember most fondly?

A: Probably my SOSC Core sequence; I took Classics of Social and Political Thought, and I remember how stimulating and exciting those classes were. I remember how motivated I felt going into class and battling those texts into the ground. It was fascinating, and the level of depth and creativity most people brought with them to the analysis was very surprising and stimulating. I feel like UChicago College students have a capacity to organize, articulate, and express their thoughts with great depth and clarity. And this is due, in great part, to the Core classes. The culture of the College, with such an emphasis on educating students to think analytically and critically, is amazing.

Q: Now that you've graduated from the College, what do you wish you had known when you first arrived at UChicago?

A: Probably just how much the University can push you to expand the conceptual boundaries of your brain, but only if you take advantage of all that it has to offer. It is not hard to drift through the four years of the University with a decent grade and an average experience. But to take the most out of the University, you need to be proactive. You need to go to class, ask questions, write multiple drafts of papers, engage in discussions with fellow students, be involved in RSOs, reach out to faculty for one-on-one conversations, etc. I feel like I didn't fully get this until my second year. And I wish I had known this so that I had been more proactive in trying to absorb everything the University has to offer.

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