Stories by News Office staff. Photos by Rob Hart, Matt Marton and Joel Wintermantle. Originally published on September 20, 2015.
Orientation Week highlights
New beginnings become official on Monday with Opening Convocation in Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, featuring welcoming remarks from President Robert J. Zimmer and John W. Boyer, dean of the College. This year’s Convocation marks the start of the University’s 125th anniversary celebration, a series of commemorative events that will continue throughout Autumn Quarter. The Convocation is followed by a bagpipe procession through the Main Quadrangle to Hull Gate and then to a class photo on Stagg Field.
On Tuesday, graduate students will enjoy their own procession and Convocation, also in Rockefeller Chapel, followed by a picnic on the Midway Plaisance and an informational fair in Ida Noyes Hall.
Beginning Wednesday, undergraduates start registering for classes and getting up to speed on research skills by attending one of several 60-minute Library Boot Camp sessions at the Regenstein Library.
The 53rd annual Aims of Education Address will take place Thursday in Rockefeller Chapel, featuring speaker John Levi Martin, the Florence Borchert Bartling Professor of Sociology. Faculty-led discussions will follow in College Houses across campus. Before the Aims address, those with a curiosity for heights can climb Mitchell Tower for the Change Ringing Bell Tour.
The weekend brings opportunities to serve local neighborhoods through the Engage Chicago Through Service Day, organized by the University Community Service Center. The weekend also offers a chance to kick back at the Hyde Park Jazz Festival, featuring nationally and internationally recognized jazz talents at locations throughout Hyde Park, including performances on the Midway Plaisance and at the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts.
Sunday: First-year students move in
This year’s incoming class arrived at their residence halls on the University of Chicago campus early Sunday, Sept. 20, pushing basic necessities and belongings piled high in black, wheeled tubs.
At Snell-Hitchcock Hall, members of the Class of 2019 and their families rumbled to a stop and formed a neat queue before toting luggage, computers, and mini-fridges up stairs to meet roommates and new friends for the first time.
Such is the annual move-in ritual that kicks off Orientation Week (Sept. 20-27). It is a moment that marks the end of life at home and the beginning of a new college adventure. By evening, students dine with their houses and attend their first house meeting, discovering traditions that will shape them for years to come.
Monday: Opening Convocation
Members of the Class of 2019 filled Rockefeller Memorial Chapel on Monday, Sept. 21 for Opening Convocation—their formal welcome to the University of Chicago and an introduction to the culture of rigorous inquiry that is central to the University’s ethos.
President Robert J. Zimmer encouraged students to challenge their own assumptions and “explore arguments from all perspectives.”
“You will not find at Chicago an environment of easy and comfortable belief in the latest politically correct view of the world,” Zimmer told students. “What you will discover is a community that finds intense and rigorous engagement tremendously exciting, enjoyable, challenging, empowering, and gratifying.”
“What the analytic culture of inquiry at Chicago provides,” Zimmer added, “is a lifelong set of skills and approach to the world that eschews simplicity and comfort in favor of analysis, inquiry and recognition of complexity.”
That analytic culture was evident from the University’s inception, said John W. Boyer, dean of the College. This year’s Convocation marked the beginning of the University’s 125th anniversary celebration, and Boyer cited William Rainey Harper, the University’s first president, for creating the rigorous academic environment that persists today.
“What is most characteristic of the University of Chicago,” Boyer said, “is that the academic culture of our undergraduate students and the academic culture of our faculty substantially overlap. This is a rare and special circumstance, a rare and special privilege.”
Tuesday: Graduate student Convocation and activities
UChicago’s newest graduate and professional students received a warm welcome on Sept. 22. More than 1,500 students across 12 divisions and schools assembled on the Main Quadrangle for a bagpipe procession to Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, where they joined President Robert J. Zimmer; Sian Beilock, vice provost for academic initiatives; and others for a Welcome Convocation.
In his opening remarks, Zimmer welcomed the 2015 graduate cohort to UChicago’s “intellectually exhilarating environment.” He emphasized that while the new students came from diverse disciplines and backgrounds, they can find common ground in their commitment to scholarship: “You come to the University with an intensity of focus that is unusual and single-minded in its purpose.”
Beilock also highlighted the intensely inquisitive nature of UChicago’s graduate student community. She praised their contributions to her own research in psychology, noting: “Graduate students make the work of the faculty better. Your knowledge and skills will certainly be shaped by your time here at the University, but you will help shape this University as well.”
Graduate students make the work of the faculty better. Your knowledge and skills will certainly be shaped by your time here at the University, but you will help shape this University as well.
— Sian Beilock, vice provost for academic initiatives
The Convocation kicked off an action-packed afternoon for the new graduate students, who went on to enjoy food, music and mingling on the Midway Plaisance. They also had the opportunity to discover some of UChicago’s many graduate student services at an informational fair in Ida Noyes Hall, where representatives from more than 30 University offices were on hand to answer questions.
As Beilock described in her Convocation address, incoming graduate students have more resources to look forward to thanks to UChicagoGRAD, a newly launched office that provides writing workshops, career consultation and more.
“It’s designed to complement the amazing education and training that you’re going to get in your division or school by providing an abundance of programs and resources,” she explained.
“It might sound odd to be talking about finishing your program when you’re just starting, but having conversations now with your advisor, your peers and with the consultants at UChicagoGRAD can help ensure that you’re on the right track from Day 1.”
‘Welcome to College’
Greeted by handmade signs, banging drums and shouts of “Welcome to College!” first-year students walked through Hull Gate on Monday afternoon, signaling their official entry to the University of Chicago.
Moments earlier, a bagpipe procession led the Class of 2019 from the Opening Convocation at Rockefeller Memorial Chapel and through the main Quadrangle. Parents armed with cell phones lined the walkways, clamoring for one last look or one more photo of their children.
Tissues were on hand for young and old alike. But once through Hull Gate, students couldn’t help but smile when stopping for a high-five or a spontaneous selfie with their fellow UChicago students.
As the first-years walked to Stagg Field for the official class photo, a pair of classmates stopped to reflect on the moment.
“I feel like I’m kind of finally home—it’s just a huge range of emotions that are just overwhelming,” one student said. Another added, “I just can’t wait to start classes. This is great.”
Thursday: Aims of Education Address
As he delivered this year’s Aims of Education Address, Prof. John Levi Martin directed students’ attention to the architecture of Rockefeller Memorial Chapel. “It is beautiful,” he said, “but it’s also somewhat fake.”
He explained how, despite emulating a medieval cathedral, the chapel is reinforced by steel beams and concrete pylons. The ceiling arches that bring the eyes upward are structurally unnecessary, Martin said.
I do not believe that what we are aiming at here in Chicago is education. What we are aiming at is the world. The means that we use to do this are what form the core of a great university.
—Prof. John Levi Martin
Martin, the Florence Borchert Bartling Professor of Sociology, expounded on the idea of the image versus the practical in his address, a UChicago tradition dating to 1961, which encourages students to reflect on the purpose and value of a liberal education. He urged students not to pursue knowledge for the sake of having it, of seeming more cultured or intelligent than their peers, but to engage the world in a meaningful way.