By Susie Allen | Photos by Dan Dry and Robert Kozloff
As the sun beamed down June 14 on graduates and their families, Prof. Kerwin Charles reminded the University of Chicago’s Class of 2014 of their common bond.
“You are united by the fact that during your time here, we have tried to inculcate in each of you a certain orientation towards learning, a particular habit of mind—marked by a relentless skepticism, by a reliance upon evidence and rigor, and by a delight in informed argument,” said Charles, the Edwin and Betty L. Bergman Distinguished Service Professor at Chicago Harris.
More than 17,000 family, friends, and colleagues gathered on the Main Quadrangles to celebrate the outcome of that orientation towards learning at the University’s 519th Convocation, as President Robert J. Zimmer conferred degrees on graduating students. In all, 1,261 undergraduate and 2,091 graduate degrees were conferred.
In keeping with a long-standing UChicago custom of featuring faculty speakers at Convocation, Charles discussed his research in his address. The speech, titled “Type and Context,” examined some of Charles’ work on conspicuous consumption and socioeconomic differences.
In his remarks, Charles reminded the Class of 2014 of their singular social position—as graduates of a leading university, he explained, they would influence the lives of people with backgrounds and experiences very different from their own.
Yet he reminded graduates that their education and its emphasis on rigorous and reasoned argument prepared them for this position of responsibility. “Your training here—those great works of literature and history about other cultures and times, those unending arguments we have from one end of campus to the other—they have made you uncommonly able to understand the other person’s point of view,” he said. “You are just the right type.”
Zimmer echoed that theme in his remarks to the graduating class. “I know that as graduates of this university, in the coming years, you will be called upon to act, to speak, and to lead. 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.”
At ceremonies for the divisions and schools, faculty and deans recognized the degree candidates individually and presented them with diplomas or hoods.
For the College diploma ceremony, students Sam Levine, Katherine Burkhart, and Aerik Francis continued the long tradition of featuring speakers from the graduating class, each delivering a brief address about their UChicago experience.
In his speech, Levine looked back to the 2010 Aims of Education address—the first faculty talk that each new College class attends—in which he and his classmates heard from Prof. Christine Stansell that one of the aims of education is love.
“In a world that will demand efficiency and pragmatism, the love that we’ve learned will urge us to explore whatever we encounter, no matter how mundane,” said Levine. “It will allow us to take the ordinary and find the extraordinary.”
President Zimmer conferred seven honorary degrees at the main Convocation ceremony on people who have made extraordinary contributions to their respective fields: astronomer Wendy L. Freedman, microbial geneticist Jeffrey I. Gordon, philologist-linguist John Huehnergard, paleontologist Andrew H. Knoll, mathematician Grigoriy Margulis, linguist-philosopher Barbara H. Partee and statistician-geneticist Terence Speed.
Zimmer also presented the Benton Medal for Distinguished Public Service to jurist and public servant Abner Mikva, JD’51, and the Jesse L. Rosenberger Medal to choral director and arts leader Josephine Lee.
The weekend’s events included recognition of faculty members and graduate students who have been honored as excellent teachers. The Quantrell Awards, Booth Prizes, and Graduate Teaching Awards pay tribute to excellence in teaching at various levels, and were awarded at the ceremonies of the divisions and schools.
Originally published on June 14, 2014.