By Dianna Douglas
Photo by Robert Kozloff

More than three thousand graduating students gathered on the Main Quadrangle with families, fellow students, and friends on June 15 for the 515th Convocation ceremony, taking the chance to consider past achievements and the challenges before them.

They cheered together as students one last time, as University of Chicago President Robert J. Zimmer conferred degrees on the candidates from each school and division. The proceedings, under overcast skies and the occasional light rain, celebrated the graduates while looking more broadly to the University’s enduring role in human affairs, and the responsibilities that graduates uphold long after they leave the institution.

“These occasions of high ceremony are a necessary and nourishing part in the life of a university,” Zimmer said. “Today’s ceremony is about reflecting upon the whole of what we do across the many libraries, laboratories and classrooms that make up our campus.”

In her Convocation address, Abbie Smith, the Boris and Irene Stern Distinguished Service Professor of Accounting in the Chicago Booth School of Business, discussed how sound personal values are linked to success in business and in life. She described research showing a surprising correlation between the values of a CEO and the behavior of an entire corporation.

“As some CEOs’ lifestyles become more and more extravagant, their firms’ social responsibility scores decline, affecting the lives of many, even those who don’t know their names,” Smith said.

Her research has shown that pausing to reflect on one’s values and goals can be a powerful force for good, Smith said to the graduates. She wished them much future success, “bringing happiness to you, those fortunate enough to know you, and even those who don’t know your name.”

Five honorary degrees were awarded to distinguished scholars during Convocation: mathematician Luis Caffarelli of the University of Texas at Austin, paleontologist Jennifer Clack of University Museum of Zoology in Cambridge, musicologist Nicholas Cook of the University of Cambridge, religion scholar John Scheid of the British Academy and the Académie des inscriptions et belles-lettres, and geochemist E. Bruce Watson of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

The president conferred the Benton Medal for Distinguished Public Service on Susanne Ghez, an innovative museum director and art curator. He also conferred the Jesse L. Rosenberger Medal for achievement “deemed of great benefit to humanity” on the renowned Chicago architect Jeanne Gang.

Separate diploma ceremonies also took place across campus for the graduates of the College and all of the schools and academic divisions. 

Faculty and graduate students who have demonstrated excellence in teaching and mentoring this year were honored during these ceremonies. Zimmer presented a prize to the four winners of the Llewellyn John and Harriet Manchester Quantrell Awards for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, possibly the nation’s oldest prize for undergraduate teaching by faculty members, during the College diploma ceremony.

During ceremonies for graduates of the divisions of the Biological Sciences, Humanities and Social Sciences and the Divinity School, the four recipients of the Faculty Awards for Excellence in Graduate Teaching and Mentoring were recognized.

Ramesh Subramanian, MBA’94, traveled with his wife and daughter from Westport, Conn., to attend the ceremony and to cheer for his son Vasanth, who earned an AB in economics and political science. “He has surpassed our expectations for what he would get out of a college education,” Subramanian said, noting Vasanth’s many activities outside the classroom.

The younger Subramanian was just 2 years old when his father graduated from the University of Chicago in a ceremony at Rockefeller Memorial Chapel. He has worked and served across campus and the larger community during his four years in Chicago, and was selected as a Student Marshal for his class, the highest honor conferred by the College.

For Subramanian, part of the fun of the Convocation events was seeing his class as a cohesive group, just as they were during Orientation Week four years ago. “I’ve really enjoyed my time here, and am excited to be able to celebrate its conclusion with friends,” he said.

With graduation wrapped up, he’s off to New York to start a job with the consulting firm BCG.

The Class of 2013 chose three students to speak during their diploma ceremony. Jonathan Grabinsky used his speech to sum up his fellow graduates’ heady mix of pride, optimism, nostalgia and uncertainty.

“Stepping into the world outside of College will be like stepping into the 171 bus at 10:15 a.m.,” he said, referring to the public bus that students often ride around Hyde Park. Even if the trip is “slow, crowded and competitive,” Grabisnsky said, he feels ready.

John W. Boyer, dean of the College got the last word at the diploma ceremony. “It was a great privilege to have you as our students,” he said. “It is an even greater honor to have you as our alumni.”