Commencement photos by Jim Prisching
“I think about what you have been through as a class”
The Class of 2022 faces a dramatically changed world from the one it encountered four years ago, when new students marched through the Arch in the fall of 2018, long before the world knew anything of COVID-19, George Floyd or the Jan. 6 insurrection.
“I think about what you have been through as a class, what we have been through as a country, and I am here to say that we are proof that we, in fact, can do what might seem, at the start, to be impossible,” said Commencement speaker Isabel Wilkerson, an acclaimed author, Pulitzer Prize winner and National Humanities Medal recipient.
In an assessment of the current state of the U.S., Wilkerson noted that the nation leads the developed world in the number of gun deaths per year, maternal deaths and infant mortality rates, and holds the “grim distinction” for most COVID-19 deaths.
> Related video: Watch the entire 2022 Commencement ceremony
“We are in the fight of our lives — as democracy and long cherished ideals unravel before us, as the unimaginable becomes a normal feature of our days,” said Wilkerson, assuring the Class of 2022 that they have already demonstrated the conviction and perseverance needed to move America to its next chapter.
Like many in the Class of 2022, Wilkerson’s own story is rooted in Chicago.
She won the Pulitzer Prize for her work as Chicago bureau chief of The New York Times in 1994, making her the first Black woman in the history of American journalism to win a Pulitzer Prize and the first African American to win for individual reporting.
“It was here that I began working on a book that would change my life and change the way many people see our country’s history,” she said, speaking of “The Warmth of Other Suns,” her 2011 bestselling nonfiction book about the Great Migration by 6 million African Americans who fled the Jim Crow South for cities in the North, including Chicago.
Wilkerson’s latest book, “Caste,” examines the unspoken caste system that has shaped America, showing how a hierarchy of social divisions still defines our lives today.
Honorary degrees and awards for exceptional teachers
Along with Wilkerson, three Northwestern alumni received honorary degrees at the ceremony: J. Landis Martin, chair of the Northwestern University Board of Trustees; Judith Olson, a human-computer interaction pioneer; and Eva Jefferson Paterson, a civil rights attorney.
For the twelfth year in a row, the president paid tribute to five high school teachers who inspired graduating seniors and had a lasting impact on their lives. Each was honored with a Distinguished Secondary School Teacher Award, which recognizes teachers from around the world who were nominated by members of the graduating class.