By Susie Allen
Photo by Dan Dry and Robert Kozloff
June 14, 2014
As the sun beamed down June 14 on graduates and their families, Prof. Kerwin Charles reminded the University of Chicago’s Class of 2014 of their common bond.
“You are united by the fact that during your time here, we have tried to inculcate in each of you a certain orientation towards learning, a particular habit of mind—marked by a relentless skepticism, by a reliance upon evidence and rigor, and by a delight in informed argument,” said Charles, the Edwin and Betty L. Bergman Distinguished Service Professor at Chicago Harris.
More than 17,000 family, friends, and colleagues gathered on the Main Quadrangles to celebrate the outcome of that orientation towards learning at the University’s 519th Convocation, as President Robert J. Zimmer conferred degrees on graduating students. In all, 1,261 undergraduate and 2,091 graduate degrees were conferred.
In keeping with a long-standing UChicago custom of featuring faculty speakers at Convocation, Charles discussed his research in his address. The speech, titled “Type and Context,” examined some of Charles’ work on conspicuous consumption and socioeconomic differences.
In his remarks, Charles reminded the Class of 2014 of their singular social position—as graduates of a leading university, he explained, they would influence the lives of people with backgrounds and experiences very different from their own.
"Although you will not be physically here, you will carry with you always our dissatisfaction with the too-easy answer, our propensity to challenge and to question, and to challenge again.”
— Prof. Kerwin Charles
Yet he reminded graduates that their education and its emphasis on rigorous and reasoned argument prepared them for this position of responsibility. “Your training here—those great works of literature and history about other cultures and times, those unending arguments we have from one end of campus to the other—they have made you uncommonly able to understand the other person’s point of view,” he said. “You are just the right type.”
Zimmer echoed that theme in his remarks to the graduating class. “I know that as graduates of this university, in the coming years, you will be called upon to act, to speak, and to lead. Like so many University of Chicago graduates who have come before you, you will approach this challenge of leadership empowered by your University of Chicago education.”