Academic Stories

UChicago's Class of 2019 celebrates Convocation weekend

Graduates encouraged to remember methods and lessons learned at University

In his final words to the University of Chicago’s Class of 2019, Prof. Luigi Zingales asked graduates to remember what they learned as students: “A method of intellectual inquiry without the blinders imposed by conventional wisdom.”

“A method based on constant attention to empirical evidence,” said the Robert C. McCormack Distinguished Service Professor of Entrepreneurship and Finance at Chicago Booth. “A method designed to forge superheroes like you. I hope you will carry this method with you the rest of your life.”

His address to an estimated 9,000 family, friends and colleagues during a wet, cloudy morning June 15 was one of the highlights of the University’s 532nd Convocation, which celebrated 5,353 graduates on the Main Quadrangles.

“You will be called upon to act, to speak and to lead,” said President Robert J. Zimmer, addressing the University’s newest graduates. “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.”

Among those watching was Esther Kilonzo, who flew in from Kenya for the graduation of her daughter Mary, an economics major in the College—the University’s undergraduate program. Visiting Chicago for the first time, Kilonzo and her family were struck most by the beauty of the lakefront. They will welcome Mary back to their home in Eldoret while she finalizes her postgraduate plans.

“She has always wanted to explore new things,” Kilonzo said. “She’s an adventurer.”

Sun Hwang also made a long journey, but it was the latest of several trips from South Korea. Her son, Hojin Park, had taken a year off from his finance career in downtown Chicago to pursue a master’s degree in computer science. The two only see each other about three times a year, but his graduation represented a particularly joyful reunion.

“You can see it on her face,” Park said.

During the morning ceremony, the University conferred honorary degrees to three scholars: David Charbonneau, a renowned astronomer who studies the planets that orbit other stars; Pierre-Louis Lions, one of the world’s most prominent experts on the theory of nonlinear partial differential equations; and Amy Richlin, a path-breaking historian of the Roman empire. Jennifer A. Doudna, an internationally renowned biochemist who helped pioneer gene-editing technology, will receive her honorary degree in June 2021.

The University awarded the Rosenberger Medal to pioneering artist Jenny Holzer “whose unique text-based work is ambitious, relevant and influential.”

Also recognized during Convocation were faculty members who won 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 Norman Maclean Faculty Awards.

The morning ceremony was part of UChicago’s Convocation weekend, which also included Class Day for graduating fourth-years on Friday and individual diploma ceremonies for the College and graduate divisions and schools later Saturday.

Class Day kicks off Convocation weekend

At Class Day, students celebrated tough decisions and the power of friends, family and teachers, chasing a dream in the kitchen, and the gift of asking the right questions.

During the ceremony, fourth-year student Anna Li detailed how her UChicago education gave her the confidence to turn down a corporate job offer and pursue her dream of becoming a pastry chef.

Addressing her fellow graduates, Li said UChicago affirmed the need to challenge conventions and expectations in order to realize that sometimes “the hard thing is the right thing.” She was one of three students selected by classmates to speak during the Class Day celebration.

“Going into the kitchen, I might not have had a map, but I had been given the compass, and at UChicago, I forged the tools.” said Li, a sociology major. “UChicago is not a culinary school by any measure, but in teaching me to be courageous and to nurture what I love—whatever that might be—it produced an aspiring chef all the same.”

Award-winning journalist and alumna Rebecca Jarvis, AB’03, delivered the keynote address at Class Day. ABC News’ chief business, technology and economics correspondent, Jarvis shared what she’s learned on her own journey after graduating from UChicago and reminded students that their education “will truly take you anywhere if you let it.”

“You can talk about anything,” Jarvis said. “You have a foundation to attack any problem. You may not have every answer, but you absolutely know the right questions to ask, because of UChicago. Use that gift.”

Li joined Mary Blair and Katrina Lee in speaking at the student-orchestrated event. Blair, who majored in political science and comparative race and ethnic studies, reminded her classmates that their degrees represent a chance to “make space for others to have the same opportunities.” Lee, a triple major in English language and literature, computer science and mathematics, likened a UChicago education to the city’s winters and thanked friends, teachers and family members for their support.

Li left her fellow classmates with words of encouragement: “We have done the very hard thing of graduating from the University of Chicago. I don’t pretend to know what awaits us beyond this campus, but if UChicago taught me anything, it’s that each of us are more than prepared for the hard things ahead.”

—This article originally appeared on UChicago News.