Before she was an ABC News correspondent and host of The Dropout podcast, Rebecca Jarvis, AB’03, was a student in the College who majored in economics and law, letters, and society, spent her days at the Reg and wrote for The Chicago Maroon.
On June 14, she’ll kick off Convocation weekend as the keynote speaker at Class Day. In her speech, Jarvis will take a look back at the many hard truths she’s learned over the years, the things she would say to her former self at graduation, some funny stories, some challenges, and how UChicago helped her address them.
Ahead of the event, College editorial team writer and Class of 2019 member Ariella Carmell had the opportunity to speak with Jarvis about her experience in the College, her hopes for her speech, and her thoughts on graduating from the University of Chicago.
Ariella Carmell: What are your memories of your own graduation? How were you feeling about the future?
Rebecca Jarvis: I’ve been thinking a lot about that question lately, because I want to say things on Class Day that I wanted to hear at my graduation. I remember my grandparents and parents being there. I remember Dennis Hutchinson, one of my favorite professors. I remember this combination of excitement and total fear of the unknown. You’re told what to expect. To live it is very different than to experience it.
AC: How has UChicago shaped your adult life? What does it mean to you to return here as the Class Day speaker?
RJ: It’s a massive honor. To be asked is incredible because I think of the University of Chicago as a place that really shaped me as a person and in life. I really enjoyed my college experience, and I attribute that to the University of Chicago—the people, the professors, the classes. I’ve always said what the University of Chicago taught me is how to question. If you go through life thinking you have all the answers, it’s not going to be easy for you. If you go through life knowing how to question, which is the beauty of what the University of Chicago teaches you, you’ll be able to go through life in such a deeper and more meaningful way.
AC: Which House were you in at UChicago?
RJ: Shorey House, in Pierce Tower, for my first House. Then I lived in the Shoreland, and then I lived at 53rd and Drexel.
AC: What were your favorite spots on campus?
RJ: I spent a lot of time at the Reg. Back when I was there, we checked our email at the library. [I also spent] a lot of time at Crerar.
AC: What were some of your favorite and most influential classes?
RJ: Pretty much everything in the law, letters, and society group. I just remember the freshman year classes, everything in the Core. I actually loved the Core. I’m so thankful for it. The mission I was on after graduating high school might have not included revisiting classic thought and principles. I was more on a work track. I’m very glad the Core was there guiding me.
AC: Why did you decide to study law, letters, and society?
RJ: I think it was because it was competitive that drew me to it initially. I wanted to see, “Am I capable of this? Is this possible?” From the very first class with Dennis Hutchinson, I fell in love with the law, questioning it, trying to understand the foundations. I loved that the classes were so hard that there wasn’t a guaranteed A.
AC: What was your post-grad plan at the time of graduation?
RJ: I had a job in Chicago in banking. I had a week and a half of downtime before I started my job. Days after graduation I flew to New York to start the training program. My roommates had already moved into our Chicago apartment, so they had all moved in without me. From LaGuardia Airport, I was on the phone trying to buy a mattress.
AC: What would you say to students attending the University of Chicago who would like to pursue journalism?
RJ: Obviously there’s no journalism program here. I don’t think that’s a knock. One piece of advice that I give people frequently is to find a side door. Figure out the thing that makes you special. What is it you love? Are you obsessed with business, technology, science? If you want to be a journalist, play up your expertise.
AC: What do you hope to express through your speech?
RJ: The most important thing for me is that I give something of value to the students there. Something in this moment that’s really important to me is not being overwhelmed by the perfection seen on social media, and the constant drumbeat of branding, the feeling of needing defined goals at every moment. The world of Instagram paints that picture very well. The real world is a lot messier. It’s not as certain, and that’s totally okay. Coming from a place like the University of Chicago that forces you to wrestle with big questions and big ideas, you’re very prepared in a special way. As long as you remember your roots, you’ll be in a good place.
AC: What would you say to students nervous to leave the unique culture of the University of Chicago?
RJ: The world is not the University of Chicago, which I think that everybody knows that. Whatever brought you to the University of Chicago is also still inside you. You have to remember that and take that with you too. Whatever got you there in the first place, whatever motivated you to go to the University of Chicago, you will carry with you. Spread the culture of inquiry, the special nature of the University of Chicago. Part of being yourself is what you learned here.
This year’s Class Day event will take place from 2 to 4 p.m. on UChicago’s Main Quadrangle. The ceremony will feature speeches from members of the Class of 2019 Mary Blair, Katrina Lee and Anna Li, student and faculty awards, and musical performances by Shubha Vedula, AB’18, and student group Dirt Red Band. Students are invited to wear honorary pins and cords, traditional cultural dress and any other celebratory attire.