Name that graduate

"What's in a name?" asked outgoing Humanities Dean Danielle Allen at Friday morning's graduation—the first of four Chicago convocations held this weekend. She was glad the wind had died down and the threatening storms had passed, she noted, because otherwise her address—about the University's unique ceremony where each graduate's name is still read aloud—would have seemed moot: bad weather would have forced the students (in this session Law School, Harris School, and SSA) to graduate en masse.

Yet with the sun peeking out and gusts calmer after the previous day's 40 mph, her talk remained relevant. Pronouncing each name, she said, "makes plain the fact of human equality." Our last names "sing tales of human conflict and collaboration" and "hold us accountable to tradition," while our first names are "given by someone only slightly older than us" who hopes we'll lead a full life. Despite the students' different intellectual abilities and GPAs, "everyone crosses that stage as equal participants in the drama of life." Arguing that "an acceptance of the proposition of human equality is fully compatible with a love of excellence," she ended, "But I've talked long enough. Let's listen to your names."

After a choral piece and awards announcements, all the students—including one whose mortarboard read "Will work for social change"—crossed the stage as their names were called.


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Photos (left to right): Danielle Allen discusses the equalizing effect of reading each graduate's name; One student shares her post-SSA mission; New grads admire their own names on their diplomas.

Photos by Dan Dry.

June 11, 2007