2017 SESP Convocation Speakers: 'We Need You'

2017 SESP Convocation Speakers: 'We Need You'

Posse Foundation President Deborah Bial told graduates at the School of Education and Social Policy’s 2017 undergraduate convocation ceremony Friday to “stand up” and use their stellar education to keep fighting for positive change during an especially troubling time in history.

Bial called out several SESP students by name before urging the class of 2017 to its feet during her keynote address at Northwestern University’s Cahn Auditorium.

“We have come a long way,” said Bial, an education strategist and expert on youth leadership and college access. “A long way is not enough.”

“Use your voice,” Bial continued. “Use your legs. March, use your feet. Stand up. Make a statement. If you have ever stood for a friend or a member of your family, if you have ever stood for something you believe in, even if it was hard, I ask you now to stand. I ask you all to stand.”

The two Convocation ceremonies -- one held for bachelor’s degree graduates and another for PhD and master’s graduates -- celebrated the accomplishments of 254 graduating students and capped Penelope Peterson’s 20-year tenure as Dean of the School of Education and Social Policy.

Prior to Bial’s address, Jane DiRenzo Pigott, founder and managing director of R3 Group LLC and a Northwestern Trustee, delivered the keynote speech to PhD and master’s students. Dami Arowolaju, the graduating student speaker, urged his classmates to fight against complacency. Students, faculty and secondary teachers also received honors during the ceremonies.

Peterson, who retires in August after two decades of leadership, said she suspected the students might be feeling much like she was: proud, nostalgic and excited.

“This is truly a time of transition for me, for our school and each of you as you graduate,” Peterson said. “Each of you will be starting a new chapter in your life, just as I will. The trick is to embrace the transitions as you move to the next step and stage of your life.” Read Penelope Peterson's full speech.

Bial, a MacArthur Foundation Fellow, founded the Posse Foundation, which recruits and trains underrepresented students to help them succeed in college. Northwestern celebrated its first class of Posse Scholars during 2017 Commencement.

In her address, Bial emphasized that SESP students have a voice, privilege, and power that is not available to everyone. “We need you,” Bial said. “We are relying on you to be strong, to be deliberate, to be clear thinking and compassionate. We are relying on you to be resilient and brave. Look around. As individuals, you are strong. But together, you're an army. You can choose to stand by, or you can choose to stand up. And I ask that you stand up.” Read Deborah Bial's full speech.

“Be Courageous”

Earlier in the day, during the graduate convocation ceremony, Pigott urged the PhD and master’s students to “be courageous” after they walked out the door with their diplomas.

A pioneering force for change since she boarded a school bus as a 12-year-old to integrate an all-black school, Pigott has regularly broken the gender barrier. Her consulting firm R3 Group LLC helps organizations create, develop and maintain a diverse and inclusive workforce.

Like Bial, Pigott acknowledged that she has seen progress in her lifetime, but said “we have a long way to go.

“We need people who are willing to think about doing something different,” she said. “Each of you will step out from here and be able to reinvent yourself. You get to walk out and decide who you're going to be.”

Pigott encouraged the students to define themselves through courage. “Don’t feel constrained to do things the way they have always been done,” she said. “Ask, ‘how could I do it differently and better?' Look at the status quo as something that clearly can always be improved upon.

“There's a lot of room for growth and space for you all to go out and change the world, make it into a better place,” she added. “Make it into a place where everybody has access to the ability to succeed.”  Read Jane DiRenzo Pigott's full speech. 

Honors and Awards

Outstanding SESP students and faculty members were honored during the ceremonies. They included:

  • Michael Schiro (MSLOC) received the SESP Alumni Leadership Award for Graduates. Schiro volunteered his time over the last three years to build “Pivot,” a nonprofit strategy consulting practice that connects professionals from management consulting firms and Fortune 500 companies with nonprofit leaders who need pro bono consulting services. Schiro will work as a senior associate for PwC.
  • Christina Cilento (LOC) received the SESP Alumni Leadership Award for undergraduates. As Associated Student Government President, Cilento worked on bike safety, gender inclusivity, and making courses more affordable for students. After graduation, Cilento will travel to Vientiane, Laos, for 13 months to study the impact of climate change on South Asia as a 2017-18 Luce Scholar.
  • Jacob Rosenblum earned the Highest GPA award with a 3.99. Rosenblum, who double majored in Social Policy and Statistics, also introduced Billie Jean King during the 2017 Northwestern Commencement ceremony. “The unshakeable, deep connections we formed (at Northwestern) were possible because we felt we could be ourselves with each other,” Rosenblum said during his introduction at Ryan Field. “And fearless activists like Billie Jean King are to thank for that.” After graduation, Rosenblum will work on homelessness as a project associate at the University of Chicago’s Poverty Lab. Read Rosenblum's full speech. 
  • Jeannette Colyvas, director of Undergraduate Programs for SESP was voted by undergraduates as the Outstanding Faculty Member. Colyvas teaches the course “Tools for Organizational Analysis,” a critical class in the Learning and Organizational Change program. Also a professor in the Learning Sciences program, Colyvas focuses on organizations and entrepreneurship, institutions and networks.
  • Cindy Conlon received the Outstanding Instructor Award. She teaches the popular Social Policy class “Legal Aspects of Education.” She is particularly interested in Supreme Court issues. Students praised how Conlon held high expectations yet motivated them to go above and beyond what they believed possible.
  • Damiola Arowolaju delivered the graduating student speech during the undergraduate ceremony. "(My SESP practicum) on the west side of Chicago was a turning point in my life. I made a promise that I would dedicate my life so equality and diversity can be more than just objectives on boardroom walls and mass incarceration can be a thing of the past. I found my passion while in SESP."  Read Arowolaju's full speech. 
  • Jamie White (MSLOC) gave the opening and closing remarks for the graduate ceremony. "Northwestern does not change what we think, it transforms how we think," White said. "As graduates of this distinguished school, we all are now able to think across disciplines, across departments, across silos, across borders. We can innovate amongst people, practices, policies, and technologies." Read White's full speech. 
  • Five inspiring high school teachers -- including three nominated by SESP students -- received Northwestern University Distinguished Secondary Teacher Awards (DSTA) during Commencement. The SESP-nominated recipients, who were honored at the undergraduate convocation ceremony, included history teacher Andrea Geyling-Moore of Milton Academy, Milton, Massachusetts, nominated by Arielle Ticho; music teacher Patrick Pearson of Oak Park and River Forest High School, nominated by Ben Weiss; and English teacher Raymond Salazar, of Chicago’s John Hancock College Prep High School, nominated by Osbeyda Navarrete.
By Julie Deardorff
Last Modified: 8/21/17