Former U.S. Secretary of Education To Address Class of 2019

Former U.S. Secretary of Education To Address Class of 2019

Arne DuncanArne Duncan

Arne Duncan, the unusually-candid U.S. Secretary of Education under President Barack Obama, will address the undergraduate class of 2019 during School of Education and Social Policy (SESP) Convocation ceremonies.

Duncan returned to his hometown of Chicago after working in Washington and is now managing partner of the social impact organization Emerson Collective. He will speak during the undergraduate gathering at 4:30 p.m. Friday, June 21, at Cahn Auditorium, 600 Emerson St. on Northwestern University's Evanston campus.

Shirley Welsh Ryan, a 2019 recipient of an honorary degree from Northwestern University, will address the master's and PhD candidates earlier in the day at 2 p.m.,  also at Cahn Auditorium.

The Class of 2019 includes 248 expected graduates, including 148 undergraduates, 100 master's, and seven PhD candidates. Graduating seniors Jamilah Silver and Meredith Falk are the 2019 Convocation co-chairs.

In addition to speeches by Duncan and the SESP senior representing the Class of 2019, the ceremonies feature the annual SESP Alumni Leadership Award, given to a graduating undergraduate student and graduate student for exceptional leadership in SESP, at Northwestern, and beyond.

The Outstanding Faculty Member and the Outstanding Instructor also will be announced. A reception for SESP graduates and their families follows each Convocation ceremony in the sorority quad tent adjacent to Cahn Auditorium.

Arne Duncan

At Emerson Collective, Duncan works with young Chicagoans between the ages of 17 and 24 through partnerships with local business leaders, community organizers, and nonprofit groups. Established by Laurene Powell Jobs, Emerson Collective advocates for policies concerning education, immigration reform, environmental conservation, and other social justice initiatives.

Prior to joining the Obama Administration, Duncan served as chief executive officer of Chicago Public Schools. From 2001 to 2008, Duncan won praise for uniting the city’s stakeholders behind an education agenda that included opening 100 new schools; expanding after-school, summer learning, early childhood, and college access programs; dramatically boosting the caliber of teachers, and building public-private partnerships around a variety of education initiatives.

His 2018 book, How Schools Work: An Inside Account of Failure and Success From One of the Nation’s Longest-Serving Secretaries of Education, is framed around the theme of lies in the U.S.’s education system. It details his work pushing forward the Common Core standard and discusses examples of students falling far below the education level needed to pursue college.

Duncan graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University in 1987, majoring in sociology. At Harvard, he served as co-captain of the basketball team and was named a first-team Academic All-American.

Duncan serves on the boards of Ariel Capital Management, Aspen Institute, Communities in Schools, Lucas Museum, My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, National Association of Basketball Coaches, Pluralsight, Revolution Foods, Thrive-Chicago and Turn It In. He also serves as co-chair of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics.

Shirley Welsh Ryan

Ryan is nationally recognized for her work supporting early detection and intervention for infants’ motor, sensory and communication development to optimize their physical development.

A University of Notre Dame trustee, she was appointed by two U.S. presidents to the National Council on Disability. Since 1985, as chair and cofounder with her husband, Patrick G. Ryan, she has led’s clinic, the first pediatric multidisciplinary facility on Chicago’s Northshore. 

In 1990, the Medical Round Table created the first Infant Milestone Chart of typical and atypical development endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatricians. The chart and’s video-based, game-based website are used today by 300 institutions of higher learning and millions of parents. is now part of the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, ranked the top U.S. rehabilitation hospital for the past 28 years.

In 1976, she founded Northwestern’s graduate-level Learning for Life lecture series, which continues today. She holds Northwestern’s highest alumni honor, the Alumni Medal.

By Julie Deardorff
Last Modified: 6/21/19