Bachelor's degrees were awarded to about 300 graduating seniors during Knox College's 173rd Commencement exercises on Sunday, June 3, on the South Lawn of Old Main.
Vir Das, a 2002 Knox graduate, delivered the Commencement address. He is the biggest English-speaking comedian in India, as well as one of that country's top actors, writers, musicians, and festival producers.
Das was among three individuals to receive honorary doctorates during Sunday's ceremony. The other honorary degree recipients were Mary Margaret McCarthy, executive director of Heartland Alliance's National Immigrant Justice Center; and Michael W. Young, American geneticist and 2017 Nobel Prize Winner.
In addition to the Commencement address from Das, graduating seniors and the rest of the audience heard remarks from senior class speaker Jaime Alejandro (Alex) Contreras. Contreras is an economics major from Las Cruces, New Mexico, and he will work for the Beta Theta Pi fraternity's national organization after graduating.
The Commencement ceremony also featured the presentation of the Faculty Achievement Award to Professor of Africana Studies Fred Hord. Hord first joined the Knox faculty in 1988, when he arrived on campus to create and run what at the time was known as the Black Studies program. Last year's Faculty Achievement Award recipient, 1972 Knox alumnus and Physics Professor Charles Schulz, made the presentation to Hord.
In his Commencement Address, Das blended comedy and sage advice. He referred to Knox's tradition of well-known and highly regarded Commencement speakers, saying, "A comedian is standing where Lincoln and Obama and Clinton, and, most importantly, Eva Longoria, once stood."
Das recalled his arrival as a Knox student more than 15 years ago. "On the first day of orientation, I joined a group of diverse students," he said, "and we all know that this college's three major strengths are diversity, inclusion, and coming up with new uses for corn!"
He advised the graduates to pay taxes, be kind, save a bit of money, travel extensively, treat everyone equally, and respect their elders.
He also offered them some unconventional advice: to "be stupid" in various aspects of their lives, including attending business meetings, sending emails, and falling in love. "Shoot for way above your league," he said.
Being "stupid" led to a career in comedy, Das said. As a Knox student, he once decided to put up posters at 2 a.m. to promote his own comedy show. He'd never done such a thing before. But hundreds of his friends showed up at Kresge Recital Hall for the performance, and his comedy career was launched.
Contreras, in remarks to the rest of the Class of 2018, recalled moving to the Knox campus for the first time and listening to President Teresa Amott's remarks during orientation. "In that speech, she made one of the most profound remarks I have ever heard: ‘You learn the most from the people least like you,'" he said.
"We are fortunate to have such a wide range of perspectives and ideas here at Knox," Contreras added. "Through our interactions with one another, we have developed a mutual respect for each other that is not commonplace in the world today."
Contreras also encouraged his classmates to be grateful for the support they've received from family, friends, faculty, and staff and to act as "bridge builders" by helping the people who will be following in their footsteps.
After all the diplomas were distributed, President Amott congratulated the new graduates and said she hopes they will "take up the challenges of global citizenship." She also encouraged them to return to visit campus whenever they can.
Here are some other highlights from Commencement:
- 94 seniors graduated with Latin honors (summa cum laude, magna cum laude, or cum laude).
- 15 members of the Class of 2018 earned College Honors for advanced independent study projects that were evaluated by a select committee and that produced a major piece of research or creative work.
- Claire Cody was announced as the winner of the John C. Weigel Prize, which is awarded to the member of the graduating class with the highest scholastic achievement. Cody is a chemistry major with a minor in dance studies. She will pursue a Ph.D. in chemistry at Yale University.
- Nicholas Nurre was announced as the winner of the E. Inman Fox Prize, which is awarded to a senior whose scholarly achievement and pursuit of a truly liberal education are exceptional among peers. Nurre is a double major in philosophy and English literature. He received a Fulbright award and will teach English in Macau.
Sunday's Commencement exercises capped off several days of events honoring the achievements of members of the Class of 2018. Other activities included Senior Pumphandle; the Senior Toast and lunch with Knox faculty; a dessert reception hosted by President Amott; additional receptions for first-generation graduates, recipients of senior prizes and awards, and Phi Beta Kappa inductees; and the College's first interfaith baccalaureate service in nearly 50 years.
At the baccalaureate service, four students presented the baccalaureate message through Pagan, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim readings. Knox Director of Spiritual Life Monica Corsaro noted that the graduating seniors always will be "interconnected to others" because they have a liberal arts education. She advised them to take frequent breaks from their smartphones and, instead, to have a conversation with someone. "Go forth and change the world, one conversation at a time," she said.