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A wet but memorable 2018 Commencement

A wet but memorable 2018 Commencement

Class of 2018

For Northwestern grads, a wet but memorable Commencement

By Jon Yates

Mixing poignant observations about life with humor and a hefty dose of operatic singing, famed soprano Renée Fleming encouraged graduates at Northwestern’s 160th Commencement ceremony June 22 to find their voices — and to use them to help make the world a better place.

“I’m not just talking about singing,” said Fleming, one of the most celebrated voices on the planet. “I’m talking about finding your voice, developing it and caring for it, and making it heard for years to come. A successful singer has a unique timbre, one that is immediately recognizable. Your time at Northwestern has already helped you begin to find your distinctive sound.”

A steady rain forced graduates to don plastic ponchos atop their purple regalia, but the inclement weather did little to dampen the graduates’ spirts — or blunt Fleming’s message.

Backed by a chorus of student singers who wove in soaring gospels, sung quotes from rapper Kendrick Lamar and even riffed on the wedding reception staple “Chicken Dance,” Fleming used both music and humor to drive home her point: It's up to the graduates to make an impact, raise their voices in the world and “enrich our lives.” The opportunities, she said, are plentiful.

“Ask yourself, ‘Who can hear me? Where can I make a difference?’ Are you an activist speaking to many? Maybe you’re a therapist, helping one person at a time,” Fleming said. “You will have a platform and a responsibility to amplify the voices of those who don’t have agency; those living in poverty, the world’s animal life threatened by human environmental abuses and children at our borders.”

Related: Watch the entire Commencement ceremony

An estimated 10,000 people attended the weather-shortened 80-minute ceremony at Ryan Field, which honored 6,151 students who earned undergraduate and graduate degrees.

Pictured below: President Morton Schapiro and Renée Fleming; and graduates at rain-soaked Ryan Field. Photos by Jim Prisching and Stephen Anzaldi

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Rain 'makes it more memorable'

Allie Woodson, one of the students who sang in the choir alongside Fleming, said working with the famed opera singer was an incredible opportunity.

“It feels like a master class and someone imparting wisdom down on us, and we have to soak up everything she says and does,” Woodson said. “Because she is obviously successful and has done well for herself and is a beacon of what Northwestern can do.”

Adwaith Nair, a graduating senior from Cedar Knolls, New Jersey, said the weather, for the most part, did not bother him.

“Obviously I think it would be better if it was sunny, but that’s not really what this is all about,” Nair said. “Even though it’s raining, I’m still super excited.”

Alex Nelson, a graduating biology major from La Porte, Indiana, was similarly unphased.

“I like the rain,” he said. “It adds another element that makes it more memorable."

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Honors for special guests

Four people – Sheldon Harnick, Subra Suresh, William Osborn and Renée Fleming (pictured above top left and right) — received honorary degrees.

And in what has become a new Northwestern tradition, President Schapiro paid tribute to five high school teachers (pictured above lower left) who inspired graduating seniors and had a lasting impact on their lives. Each were honored with a Distinguished Secondary Teacher Award, which recognizes teachers from across the country who were nominated by members of the senior class.

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Published: June 22, 2018. Updated: June 29, 2018.

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