Class of 2018 Convocation: Goodbye Candy Bowl, Hello World

Class of 2018 Convocation: Goodbye Candy Bowl, Hello World

Chicago Public Schools’ CEO Janice Jackson encouraged graduates to harness the power of chaos and “pay attention to student voices” during the 2018 School of Education and Social Policy’s (SESP) undergraduate Convocation ceremony at Northwestern University’s Cahn Auditorium.

“People often ask what keeps me up at night,” Jackson said. “I prefer to talk about what wakes me up in the morning: an undeniable burning desire to cure inequities across the city and throughout the nation.”

Her theme resonated with SESP students, who are often driven by the challenge of making the world a better place. Jackson referenced current events, including the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida and the government’s zero-tolerance immigration policy, as she stressed the importance of speaking up for those who have no voice.

“Think about the laws that need to be changed,” she said. “Think about the policies that need to be implemented. Think about the status quo that needs to be disrupted, and make that your life’s mission. Make that the reason you get up every single morning.”

Jackson was one of two featured speakers during SESP's Convocation ceremonies for 107 undergraduate and 95 graduate students. Prior to her address, Subra Suresh, president of Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, spoke to graduate students about the importance of lifelong education during the looming “Fourth Industrial Revolution.”

SESP Dean David Figlio, who welcomed freshmen last fall by singing a few bars of “Hamilton,” capped off his first academic year as dean by invoking Earth, Wind & Fire founder Maurice White, who was known to have said, “never let the lyrics get in the way of the groove.”

“Worry less about what you do, and focus more on who you are,” Figlio said to the Class of 2018. “Find the groove that propels you forward and makes you dance. Then work on the lyrics.”

Of course, there will be plenty of ups and downs along the way, Figlio added. “But don't let the lyric --that short-term setback, that betrayal, that disappointment -- get in the way of the groove, the big picture, the longer-term trend of where your life is going.”  Read Dean Figlio's full speech.

The undergraduate ceremony also featured several student speakers, including Erika Carter and convocation co-chairs -- and former freshmen year roommates -- Joy Holden and Abbey Kutlas. Read Kutlas's full speech.

Earlier in the day, Sumaia Masoom spoke at the University-wide commencement ceremonies at Ryan Field. Read Masoom's full speech.

Holden, who is heading to Harvard Law School after serving as president of Northwestern’s nationally-ranked Mock Trial Team, encouraged her classmates not to fall for the notion that because something is written in law or policy it is inherently moral, just, or right.

“This degree comes with an obligation,” Holden said. “It can be used for good, and it can be wasted. I beg of you, SESP Class of 2018, do not waste this opportunity to enter the workforce and bring compassion, empathy, and strength to this world that’s been so broken. I have great confidence in this country because I have confidence you can be your ancestors’ wildest dreams.”

Newly minted master’s students, PhD’s

Suresh, who received an honorary degree from Northwestern earlier in the day during Commencement, spoke about the potential benefits and dangers of living on the brink of the “Fourth Industrial Revolution,” which he characterized as “the unprecedented and unique convergence of the digital, physical, and biological worlds.”

Due to the scope and rapid pace of change, lifelong education will be a key survival skill, said Suresh, one of the world’s top researchers in materials science, engineering and biotechnology, and former director of the National Science Foundation.

“A futurologist famously said that the illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write. They will be those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn,” he said. “You have to continuously educate yourself in this rapid pace of change.”

Graduate student Anna Bethune opened and closed the ceremony, reminding graduates of their ability to work with “humility and pride, in and across disciplines, in partnership with communities, policymakers, the government and civil society.”

“Remember that here, we learned to recognize the full humanity of others, people very different from ourselves,” she said. “Remember that change is hard, but progress is meaningful. Remember that the privilege of graduating from a school like this means that we work hard to enable others to have the same opportunity.  And remember that SESP love is deep and unwavering and we'll catch you if you fall.”

Honors, Awards

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

Aireale Rodgers (BS10) won the graduate Alumni Leadership Award. Rodgers has worked with organizations such as Teach for America in Chicago and D.C., Foundations College Prep, and as program coordinator at The Graduate School’s Office of Diversity & Inclusion. She plans to pursue her doctorate in urban education policy at the University of Southern California this fall. “She demonstrates incredibly high ethical standards and is devoted to issues of social justice and equity,” said SESP instructor Regina Logan, who recommended her for the award.

Michelle Sanders received the SESP Alumni Leadership Award for undergraduates. During more than three years with Northwestern’s Center for Civic Engagement, she developed programming, created marketing strategies, and helped students exercise their civic duties. Sanders also stood up for her beliefs as a leader in Northwestern’s black community and wants to make an impact through bridging communities, said Brad Wadle (MS03) assistant director of the Master of Science in Education program, who presented the award.

Imani Wilson earned the Highest GPA award with a 3.98. Wilson, who received the Patrick G. And Shirley W. Ryan Prize for Community Service and the Abraham Lincoln Civic Engagement Award during the Senior Honors ceremony, plans to attend the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration.

Quinn Mulroy, assistant professor of human development and social policy, was voted by undergraduates as the Outstanding Faculty Member.

Lilah Shapiro received the Outstanding Instructor Award for the second time. She also received it in 2015. Other two-time faculty award winners include Cindy Conlon (2007, 2017) and Jeannette Colyvas (2010, 2017). Here's an up-to-date list of previous faculty winners. 

Senior honors students included Camille Cooley, Amy Lieberman, Maria Christina Loi, Sumaia Masoom, Sienna Parker, and Imani Wilson.

Abbey Kutlas was the 2018 Senior Honors Student Speaker.

Photos by Steve Drey

By Julie Deardorff
Last Modified: 6/25/18