Certifiably Chicago


On Saturday afternoon, one week after the University’s 485th Convocation filled Harper Quadrangle with thousands of June graduates and their guests, a smaller gathering of soon-to-be alumni and their well-wishers convened a few paces to the west: an un-air conditioned Swift Lecture Hall—windows open to the afternoon breezes and carillon bells—was the setting for the 57th annual awarding of certificates to the Basic Program of Liberal Education for Adults graduates.

Now part of the Graham School of General Studies, the course began 60 years ago, an outgrowth of University President Robert Maynard Hutchins's Great Books program. The four-year, structured curriculum of Socratic-style classes stretches from Homer and Plato to Joyce and Freud and is, said Bertram Cohler, AB'61, the William Rainey Harper professor in the social sciences and a staunch Basic Programs supporter, "about words and actions," the idea that a text has meaning in the world beyond its pages.

Not all of the 93 students who’d earned either two- or four-year certificates braved the day's heat for the ceremony and reception that followed, but those who did covered the demographic and sartorial waterfront: from twenty-somethings to retirees, suits and ties to sundresses and sandals. What they had in common, said fourth-year graduate Lewis M. Schneider, is the realization that "this is not a conclusion.... Here's to a lifetime of learning."


Photo: Bertram Cohler spoke at Saturday's Graham School ceremony.

June 19, 2006