Convocation Features Address by Columbia Professor Jeanne Brooks-Gunn

Convocation Features Address by Columbia Professor Jeanne Brooks-Gunn


At the Convocation for the School of Education and Social Policy on June 20, 161 students received diplomas for earning bachelor's, master's or doctoral degrees. The ceremony featured guest speakers and the presentation of awards.

Dean Penelope Peterson encouraged the graduates to hold onto their lofty aims, despite the economic uncertainty of the times. "We urge you to stick to that goal of being change agents in improving the lives of others. … We know you will do good and you will do well," she said.

Convocation speaker Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, a professor of child development at Columbia University, drew parallels between the graduates' aims and her own career goals as a researcher dedicated to improving the lives of children. "We all subscribe to the fundamental belief that investment in people is crucial," she said as she reminded students of the sound preparation they had received at SESP, a school "preeminent in policy-oriented research and practice."

Above all, Brooks-Gunn stressed the importance of working to better people's lives. "Believe in our ability to bring about change," she said. "By graduating from this school, you're demonstrating your ability to improve the lives of others." She emphasized, "You have the ability to be committed and passionate about what you do when you leave Northwestern. Harness that ability to solve problems."

In working toward their life's goals, she advised the graduates of the value of openness: "Let your curiosity take you to unexpected places," she counseled, noting that she had pursued interest areas that others told her would hinder her career. "I'd like you to be open-minded as well."

She also stressed the importance of mentors. "I appreciate what I've gotten from my guides, and I love passing it on now," she said. "What I want you to do is say yes to whatever opportunities and mentoring come your way."

Earlier in the weekend Brooks-Gunn had received an honorary degree from Northwestern University. She was recognized as one of today's most distinguished and influential developmental psychologists.

In an often-humorous speech, graduating senior John Colucci, a secondary teaching major, emphasized the specialness of SESP. Noting that graduates of other schools were eager to get out into the real world, he said, "We've been living in the real world. … We've been taught how to do it." He praised SESP for a range of gifts, from mentoring to free copying to dinners at the dean's home.

"Play whatever part SESP has prepared you for well," he advised. "Be proud that we have come this far and that we are ready."

The awards presented at Convocation included awards for outstanding faculty selected by students and awards to outstanding students determined by alumni. Regina Logan and Michelle Reininger won the Outstanding Professor Award for adjunct faculty member and full-time faculty member, respectively. Alumni Leadership Awards went to undergraduate student Neal Sales-Griffin and graduate student Jessie Blank.

Finally, Dan Fleischmann and Kelly Kirkpatrick were recognized for having the highest grade point average of 3.95. The student co-chairs of Convocation were Adriana Arellano and Quintin Sprull, who presented the welcome and farewell.

Read John Colucci's well-received Convocation speech.


Top photo:
Amy Foran, Chelsea Plummer, Elsa Sackett, Emily Machado and student Convocation speaker John Colucci.
Bottom photo:
Convocation co-chair Quinton Sprull, Undergraduate Alumni Leadership Award winner Neal Sales-Griffin and Outstanding Adjunct Faculty Award winner Regina Logan.
By Marilyn Sherman
Last Modified: 11/19/09