Enduring the heat to graduate

Julianna Nunez

Northwestern’s graduating class of 2012 and their families endured a suffocating 90-degree heat Friday as a procession of speakers encouraged students to maintain their connection to NU, form partnerships and while one speaker made a few jabs at University President Morton Schapiro’s height.

Event staff provided bottles of water, fans and cups of ice to the attendees of NU’s 154th commencement ceremony in Ryan Field. Students entered the arena according to school under a procession by the Northwestern University Symphonic Wind Ensemble.

Charles Katzenmeyer, president of Northwestern Alumni Association, urged the graduating students to stay connected with NU. Katzenmeyer then acknowledged the NU class of 1962, some of whom were sitting with the graduates, for celebrating their 50 year reunion as well as the graduating students of NU in Qatar, who were also at the ceremony.

After Katzenmeyer spoke, Schapiro conferred honorary degrees to Joan Ganz Cooney, creator of Sesame Street; Martha L. Minow, dean and Jeremiah Smith Jr. Professor of Law at Harvard Law School; William D. Nix, professor emeritus of engineering at Stanford University and Dr. Paul Farmer, this year’s commencement speaker. Farmer, a medical anthropologist, physician and Harvard University professor, began his speech by expressing his admiration for NU.

“I am here before you for lots of reasons,” he said. “The main one being that I so admire quite a large number of students here in this class.” He followed this by sharing a conversation he had with Schapiro in which the University president convinced him to make a speech for commencement..

Before Farmer began his speech, he moved away from a step near the lectern and said he did not need it because he is already tall enough.

“I’m a little taller than Morty, but he doesn’t like it when we make references to his height,” he said. The crowd laughed before Farmer added, “It’s five seven and a half, by the way.”

He also commented on his nervousness about speaking after Stephen Colbert, the 2011 commencement speaker.

“He who received hearty laughs for drawing on his well-known talent for humor, useful in these kinds of settings. This is about as fair as I were about to perform, right now, a minor surgical procedure on Morty Schapiro,” he said.

Farmer’s speech took a more serious route as he addressed what he believes graduates should value: partnership.

Farmer shared with the audience the time he worked in a clinic in Haiti. There, he saw the lack of sufficient space and medical care for the residents. He said a lack of imagination caused the failure in providing sufficient medical care.

“It was not a failure to work long hours, we all did that,” Farmer said. “Rather, it was a failure to imagine an alternative to the kinds of programs that the public health literature then deemed realistic, sustainable and cost-effective.”

Farmer discussed the history of Partners in Health, an organization that provides healthcare to citizens in developing countries, noting its modest beginnings and the progress it has made in its mission. Partners in Health currently operate 75 hospitals and clinics across the world.

He also emphasized two points for the graduates to remember.

“First, try to counter failures of imagination…Second, and final points, as you seek to imagine or reimagine solutions for the greatest problems of our time, harness the power of partnership.”

After Farmer concluded his speech, Schapiro conferred the doctoral degrees and lent stage to Communication graduate Tucker May.

“College is no longer a place for students to bury their nose in a book and then emerge four years later cross-eyed and out of breath,” May said. “It’s about the individual journey. It’s about the classes you choose. It’s about the friendships you make. It’s about the decisions you regret. But most of all, it’s about discovering who you are.”

Once Schapiro conferred the graduate and undergraduate degrees, the graduates, faculty and guests stood and sang the Alma Mater together.

The commencement ended with a benediction led by Tahera Ahmad, associate university chaplain. After reading a passage from the Quran, Ahmad encouraged the graduates to utilize their time.

“Beloved graduates, four years ago you embarked on a journey that had brought you here today through sweat and pain, your countless hours of effort and sleepless nights,” Ahmad said. “Regardless of your faith, ethnicity or socioeconomic background, as a Northwestern graduate you know that the greatest prize you have is your time…So go now and change the world with your purple passion and your purple pride. So go forth now and blessed be your every day and your every moment of time. Amen.”

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