2017's Student Class Day Speeches

Liz Adetiba, Karyn Peyton, and Alex Morales share their wisdom.

On June 9th, 2017, hundreds of UChicago College students will congregate for one last time as part of the University's first annual Class Day celebration in advance of the next day's 530th Convocation. Three of their classmates—Liz Adetiba, Karyn Peyton, and Alex Morales—were selected to give speeches as part of Class Day, sharing memories and advice regarding the journey through college and beyond. The full text of all three speeches is below, followed by each speaker's reflections on the process of preparing their address. 


Liz Adetiba | Political Science major, Human Rights minor

The late, widely acclaimed recording artist Prince kicked off many of his concerts with the phrase: “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life.”

Well, borrowing from the elusive pop icon, dearly beloved we are all gathered here today to celebrate getting through this thing called UChicago.

I could get into the late nights and early mornings at the Reg, brutal winter winds, and the ever-daunting course bidding system...but I won’t. After all, we’re here to celebrate! And despite those challenging experiences, each of us has myriad reasons to be proud today—some widely shared with our classmates, and some particular to our own personal struggles. During occasions such as this one, it is common for speakers to encourage the graduates and all who are here to support them to aim high, and never stop believing in themselves. But I won’t do that. If you’ve made it this far, you know how to carpe that diem. So I won’t stand here today and tell you what to do, or how to do it, but rather remind you of who you should be doing this for.

As tempting as it may be to make these graduation festivities all about us, and the time, love, and dollars poured into getting us here today, our celebration is bigger than us—it’s about all of the people who will never meet us, and yet be impacted by the things we do and say. A degree from the University of Chicago will undoubtedly open many doors, but the real task is figuring out how we can use this degree to open doors for as many other people as possible.

I’ll tell you a quick story about an experience that captures my time here so well: like many of you, I spent much of my fourth year working on my BA thesis. I truly believed that the work I was doing was revolutionary and trailblazing. That was, until, the week before it was due, I ran across an article in a law journal that was in essence my entire thesis. In retrospect, I was naive to have assumed what I was doing had never been done before, after all, there is no such thing as “new knowledge.”

But it was then that a professor reminded me that the importance of doing this work wasn’t simply for the sake of my own learning, but instead to amplify the voices of those who have been marginalized. To whom much is given, like this all-consuming, taxing yet rewarding degree, much is required, and on this campus, in this city, in this country, in this world, there is serious work to be done. And who better to do this work than a group of people who are committed to more than remaining on the surface, who understand that rigorous inquiry requires leaving no stone unturned and no worldview deconstructed?

Those of us here, were fortunate enough to get through this thing called UChicago, so let’s get out there into the newsrooms, labs, boardrooms, classrooms and communities, and do what is necessary to help as many others as possible get through this thing called life.  

 

What inspired you to pursue the intense selection process to become a student Commencement speaker?

I was nominated by someone, so I never intended to actually pursue the process. But once I received the nomination email, I felt compelled to at least try--I didn't want to let the anonymous nominator down!

How did you react when you found out you had been selected from a highly competitive pool to give a speech at Commencement?

A bit shocked, actually. I was fully expecting a "We regret to inform you..." email. But that turned into nervousness pretty quickly.

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

Interestingly enough, packing all of the things I wanted to say within the 3-minute time frame was more than a little challenging. Lots of cutting was involved on the way to the final draft!

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

I hope people will get closer to realizing that this education was a privilege, and should be used in a socially responsible manner.

What UChicago class, professor, or experience will you remember most fondly post-graduation?

Professor Cathy Cohen's Intro to African American Politics pushed me to think about issues like race and marginalization in ways I could have never, ever imagined. Her class lit a fire in me, and re-oriented me in the direction I've chosen to follow now.

Now that you're graduating from the College, what do you wish you had known when you first arrived at UChicago?

I wish I had known that when students and alums told me "UChicago is hard," they weren't just referring to the courseload and rigor of the institution.


Karyn Peyton | English Language and Literature major

Let me start out with a confession: I am a fifth-year. You weren’t expecting that. “She doesn’t even go here.” I know. Yes, I am that unicorn. And I’m an Odyssey Scholar. So I have the wrong class t-shirt AND I have too many loans to pay for the right one.

Let’s review:

First-year: You’re not that bright. You “play” broomball. You use a lot of synonyms in your essays. But you realize there is no synonym for “bad argument.”

Second Year: You’re hoping you learn the material by osmosis. You’ve found five majors to pack yourself into. You ask someone out who speaks three languages and in all three of them they said no.

Third Year: Your living situation deteriorates. Your toilet explodes. Your upstairs neighbor is a good, er, tap dancer. Your method of selling yourself for internships is, “If you give me this opportunity, you will give me this opportunity.” Most pre-meds are no longer. 

Fourth Year: I forgot Core Bio.

For the past 4+ years we have been measuring ourselves against failing systems and lucky moments. We asked ourselves, “Do you like who you’ve become?” and the answer was often, “No.” You know, no one wants to hear a graduation speech about dark matter unless it’s related to physics. But I can’t stand here being grateful without acknowledging that gratitude is the result of pain and failure. That pain is now humility, and that failure has become a habit of maintaining a steady diet of truth.

Many of us came here excited and leave here angry. Many of us struggled with our mental health. Many of us were punished for it. Some of us are better for it. Some of us lost things or found things. Met people who changed us. Partied hard or didn’t. Lost people. Lost hope here. I know I did.

Like many students, I am a fifth year because I went on leave. Why? Because I thought about ending my life here. I came close twice. I stand here, two years after one of the worst years of my life, to acknowledge that most of college is rarely having anything turn out as you expected, and the things that do work out are often the result of luck and privilege. And acknowledging that uncomfortable truth is eye-opening, really.

We have learned so much from the darker parts. For years I couldn’t think critically except about myself. But the depths of that sadness opened me up. The days ahead won’t be harder for us. We’ve already been in the real world. It isn’t hard; it’s just a new challenge. But we are resilient. And our curiosity is real. I stand here like everybody – a bit damaged, but ready in my unreadiness, prepared to fail again. 

And what a wonderful feeling it is to know that you received one of the best educations in the world that showed you that you are not the best, that you are of the world. Realizing that a good education makes you question the institution you received it from. How it has taken your passions and matured them. How it can restore your vision in a time of darkness. Graduation not only marks a moment of change; it marks a moment that you have changed. And I do firmly believe, with everything in me, that that is the aim of education.

And remember to give back if you’re working at Goldman Sachs. We don’t have to choose between comfort and social change because we have the privilege to do both. 

 

What inspired you to pursue the intense selection process to become a student Commencement speaker?

Well, I hope it wasn’t because I was power-hungry, because SOSC taught me that exercising power is a pretty systematically uncool thing to do. Honestly, I felt like I had something to say. I didn’t want to look back on my college career during graduation with this ethnographic detachment that I’m now used to hearing in academia. I wanted something real, I wanted to be vulnerable, and I knew most everybody did, too. Also, I never got to join speech and debate in high school, which always made me mad. Now me giving a speech is no longer up for debate.

How did you react when you found out you had been selected from a highly competitive pool to give a speech at Commencement?

Shock. I used to hate competition – until I won. Just kidding. I spat out my chili when I found out I was so excited.

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

Relating to 1,000+ people is categorically not my thing, and neither is walking into a room and commanding respect. I was so worried everybody would be thinking, “My esteemed colleague doesn’t realize she’s a total clown.” So, while I was writing the speech, my brain slowed from Mach 2 to 2 words per hour. I also had to deal with the fact that a lot was going to be left unsaid. No one wants to hear a graduation speech about the “dark ages” or the controversial parts of the last 4+ years. It’s about the overcoming. I didn’t feel clear-headed or erudite. I didn’t have the high-tuned sensitivity I wanted. There are so many emotions, and capturing that swell of emotion in a speech is…hard.

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

We came. We saw. We were awkward. Curiosity is real. Resilience is real. Mental health is important.

What UChicago class, professor, or experience will you remember most fondly post-graduation?

I’ll always remember having a house award named after me: the “Karyn Peyton my life is in shambles Wendtling of the week” Award. Professor Veeder’s gothic fiction and American short fiction classes and Judy Hoffman’s Documentary Production sequence changed my life. I once de-escalated and avoided a serious broomball-related calamity by falling on my rear in front of the goal. My twin sister was my roommate in housing, and while she was going through her cetacean phase, she sat up in bed once and said, “Whales are like your coy, kind-of inappropriate, young-at-heart grandfather.”

Now that you're graduating from the College, what do you wish you had known when you first arrived at UChicago?

Wow, there are so many “I wish I had known”’s. There is so much I wish I could tell my younger self. College is an identity crisis. You may become that weird urban millennial. And you will do more. You have affected people in ways you don’t even know yet. Your enthusiasm doesn’t need to be dead upon arrival. You can do something outside of the boxes you’re trying to stuff yourself into, and it makes sense. Of course, when you’re a first-year, you don’t have to hindsight to think, “College is messy for (almost) everyone, especially for first-generation college students, and the way people market themselves is by showing off the met goal, the accomplishment, and hiding the process it takes to get there. Capitalism 101.” You’re going to feel behind a lot of the time. But the path isn’t straight, and I wish I had known it is okay to make peace with that. Fight the system: pick your major way too late. You will not only survive, but thrive. And none of us can make it alone. The bad parts are there as lessons. College might feel like things are happening to you. But the next part of your life will be about choices, what you do, and that feels better. Lastly, I would tell myself, “Whatever you’re thinking of doing, I did. Wherever you’re thinking of going, I went. It was different than what I thought, but it was still special.” And you don’t need to sign off every email with “Best, Karyn Peyton.” “Warmly,” “sincerely,” or “regretfully” also work just fine.


Alex Morales | Psychology and Theatre & Performing Arts double-major

When I heard that the University was getting graduated, I couldn't believe it. I was really touched when UChicago asked me to be its best man, and then I realized I had to write this speech.  I mean, yeah we've been best friends forever, or at least since we went to school together, but you know best man speeches are really hard and I don’t think I could get away with just teasing UChicago about still being in its Gothic phase or how it calls “trimesters” “quarters”.

But actually, I'm really glad that the university could find someone like all of you. I mean, taken holistically, you are everything the University could want. And y’know, most people meet online these days, so there’s no shame in using Tinder or any other common app.

And here you are: you are smart, intrepid, curious, and you know where Waldo is. You've known each other for years now and it’s obvious that you guys have something special. It’s no secret that the University has been graduated before, and we all thought that the 529th time was gonna be the last, but really, I’m confident this will be the last graduation.

I think it’s great that it finally found that special one…thousand people.

I remember the first time I met the University and its soon to be graduates. They showed me how deep their empathy ran.

It was during the polar vortex, during Chi-beria, during what I can only assume was due to the death of Aslan the lion. It was so cold that the fire alarm went off in my dorm. Yeah, they work both ways. It was six in the morning the first day of winter quarter. We all dressed slowly, groggily, and went outside. One of the people in my house thought there actually was a fire and they ran outside in just their robe. It was negative 40 degrees.

Immediately, instinctively, without thinking, everyone surged around them like penguins might, to make sure that they would be ok in the cold. That’s when I knew the University was head over Ivy for these people, who all chose to go to school here in this frozen hellscape.

I often wonder what sort of person came to the literal swamp that is Chicago, and said, “Ah yes, here I will found my city.” I often wonder what sort of students came to this gothic school in this aforementioned frozen hellscape and said “Ah yes, here is where I will go to school.”

I have since realized that it is the type of person who will huddle around someone when they aren't dressed for the cold. This type of person would come to a cold, gothic place, to learn about what they care about because they all have the same fierce fire of determination and curiosity burning inside of them. And when nothing else, and I mean, quite literally, nothing else can keep you warm because it is colder at school than it is on Mars, that fire will burn inside of you and keep you warm. As you go forth after your graduation, take this chance to play Prometheus and bring that fire with you to everyone and everything you encounter. Shield others from the cold. Keep your curiosity. Keep your determination. Keep a tab on Waldo. Everything after this is easy. And hopefully, warmer.

So, I'd like to propose a toast to the University of Chicago and its soon to be graduates: May this be only the start of your many years of happiness. 

 

What inspired you to pursue the intense selection process to become a student Commencement speaker?

I have very few skills, but I am good at public speaking. I wanted to be able to give something back to my class. Since we were graduating with our houses this year, I thought it even more important to find the right words to tie everyone together.

How did you react when you found out you had been selected from a highly competitive pool to give a speech at Commencement?

I was ecstatic. I found out very late at night, because my phone was broken, so I didn’t see the email until right before I was about to fall asleep. I was awake for some time after.

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

Not writing something trite or boring. I feel like graduation speeches are often one or both, and I was terrified that mine might be either. I went through five or six totally different ideas before combing two of them into my last draft.

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

SCHOOL IS HARD. YOU KNEW THAT WHEN YOU CAME HERE AND YOU SUPPORTED EACH OTHER. KEEP BEING NICE AFTERWARDS.

What UChicago class, professor, or experience will you remember most fondly post-graduation?

My first and second year RH’s were both wonderful couples and they really helped shaped the house into a welcoming place while being excellent role models and mentors to the house members. My house, when I lived in it, was so much more than home. I miss living in a building with a 100 wacky characters. Each day felt like a good TV show.

Now that you're graduating from the College, what do you wish you had known when you first arrived at UChicago?

As it turns out, professors won’t kill and eat you if you ask for an extension.

Tagged: Convocation