LINK:  University of Chicago Magazine
About the Magazine | Advertising | Archives | Contact
LINK:  June 2005LINK:  featuresLINK:  chicago journalLINK:  investigationsLINK:  peer reviewLINK:  in every issue

:: By Amber Lee Mason

:: Photo by Dan Dry

link:  e-mail this to a friend

Chicago Journal ::

College Report

Some pomp, some circumstance

photo:  college report sites
Family members exult after the June 2005 College convocation ceremony.

At 9:15 a.m. nervous, sweaty latecomers check in and receive a number—between 101 and 1,242, it marks their place in line—while clusters of young men and women form around the water coolers edging Ratner’s basketball court. Reluctant to leave their buddies and join the lengthening queues of robed peers, ordered by division and last name, the soon-to-be graduates murmur about the day’s rising heat and last night’s get-together, wryly complaining about being up and ready to go so early on a Saturday morning.

Outside, Rebecca Searl (sociology with honors) scurries to meet her mother, who picks her way across the gym’s lawn to hand off a take-out breakfast. Other stray parents take custody of keys and cell phones for the pocketless or snap one last photo before their children disappear into the gym. Across Ellis Avenue the kilted University of Chicago Pipe Band, which will lead the processional toward the quads, honks and hoots its way through a warm-up while a small army of University staff members patrols the grounds, keeping the events running smoothly. Parked near Botany Pond, University Police Officers Hopper and Green direct traffic, chatting with development-office photographer Dan Dry, who has begun to roam the quads aiming “to capture the soul and spirit” of the day.

Meanwhile, at the heart of campus, parents and friends fill Harper Quad, finding seats and preparing for the 10 a.m. start to Session III—the College—of the University’s 481st convocation.

Gerald and Kim Henry, parents of Lauren (English language and literature with honors), arrived at 7:45 a.m. and scored a prime spot: shade, legroom, and a close-up view of the dais. Tardier attendees sit farther back, behind one of three large screens, using convocation programs as sun visors while they chat and check camera batteries. Beyond the ticket takers, stationed at Harper Quad’s entrance, more guests—mostly underclassmen without passes or family members sent to photograph the parade—lounge on the grass beneath the center circle’s trees.

As 10 a.m. approaches, Vice President and Dean of Students Stephen Klass loses most of his welcoming remarks to a passing Hospitals helicopter, but he manages to quiet the crowd and remind everyone to “stay hydrated” as the temperature stretches toward a muggy 90 degrees. Soon a bleating drone—eight bagpipers and seven drummers playing “Scotland the Brave” and its ilk—brings the assemblage to its feet. Marching slowly two by two behind the band, University Marshal Lorna P. Straus, X’53, SM’60, PhD’62, and underclassmen student marshals, the Class of 2005 stretches seamlessly under Cobb Gate and into the quads.

Joyful, anxious, beaming, frowning, giggling, solemn, waving degree candidates pass the quad’s center circle to their 16 rows of reserved seats. Desperate to find her place in line, Melody Ozkan (economics) runs alongside, clutching her mortarboard. “They told me 10 o’clock,” she pleads to staffer Caryn Myers, who checks in with a walkie-talkie and hustles Ozkan off to join her class.

Applause blooms as the crowd catches sight of the first black caps and gowns. Watching for Tyler (classical studies and medieval studies, both with honors), James Griffith describes his son’s career at Alpha Delta Phi, trips abroad to Greece and the Czech Republic, and his coming move to London for more studies. The great thing, Griffith enthuses, is that “each and every one of these kids has a story just like that.”

After the last degree candidates file through, faculty, dignitaries, and President Don M. Randel bring up the rear. The rest of the opening ceremonies roll by: Rockefeller Chapel Dean Alison Boden offers a prayer, then political-science professor Cathy Cohen delivers the convocation address, “Race, Politics, and the Costs of Compromise” (see “Promise bound,” page 28). A musical interlude—“Exsultate Deo” sung by the student ensemble Motet Choir—leads in to three brief student addresses. Speaking on memory loss, Franklin McMillan (philosophy with honors) predicts that though graduates may look back on this day, “we most certainly will not remember the speeches.” Quantrell Awards are granted to five professors, concluding the preliminaries, and Ihab Ahmed (biological sciences) receives the first diploma.

More than 900 names are read with hardly a tongue trip. As biological sciences gives way to humanities, the New Collegiate Division, and physical sciences, graduates move smoothly across the dais, receiving their diplomas with their left hands and shaking Randel’s with their right. “They have a lot of questions like, Do I take my hat off? How many hands do I shake?” admits stage staffer Danielle Churilla, pausing to take a numbered index card from a passing candidate. “But once one person does it right, they all do it right.”

Enjoying the broadcast from a shady spot of grass, members of the Velez family take a break before returning to their seats in time to applaud Nicholas (history), one of the last to cross the makeshift stage. As the morning wears on and the sun arcs higher, they’re joined by families who have already heard their graduate’s name, restless toddlers and their minders, smokers, and undergraduate onlookers. Behind the milling guests, hustling to the steady cadence of names, caterers pop corks and shape mounds of cookies, brownies, and strawberries in divisional tents, where newly minted graduates will reunite with their families. “These people may be highly educated,” grumps caterer Jeffrey Orr, a convocation veteran, “but they act like a pack of wolves when the food and drink are free.”

At last the final name—Matthew Szydagis (physics with honors)—is read, Randel addresses the now fidgety crowd, and a swell of applause cheers first the graduates and then all those who helped them on their way. Again led by the University of Chicago Pipe Band, the erstwhile students file from their seats, maintaining dignity and decorum, as least until they find their families—and a celebratory glass of champagne.