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Delayed but Not Down: Class of 2021 Gets a Memorable Send-Off

Thunderstorms may have postponed the School of Communication’s June 12 Convocation by a couple of hours, but that wasn’t going to stop the class of 2021 from walking across the stage at Ryan Field.

“The fact that we’re here together is nothing short of a miracle, rain be damned,” said School of Communication dean E. Patrick Johnson, who praised the graduates for all they had endured this last year. “Your resilience is awe-inspiring. Trailing a year that has taken so much, I’m buoyed to see you as a group so willing and able to give time, give expertise, give yourself space and grace to be and become.”

When the storm—the only rain forecast for weeks in the Chicago area—barreled in from the west, the nearly 300 graduates were told to evacuate into the field’s concourse. Waiting it out, they even enjoyed an encouraging surprise visit from Dean Johnson before the sun broke through and signaled the ceremony could begin. Convocation landed on the day after Illinois loosened mask mandates and other COVID-19 restrictions, and for the palpably joyful crowd, the in-person ceremony after a largely hybrid senior year suggested that something closer to “normal” was imminent.

Communication studies major Cate Wolfen gave the student address; filmmaker, writer, producer, and marketing communications executive Ebs Burnough (C02) delivered the convocation address. A former White House deputy social secretary and senior adviser to Michelle Obama, he directed the upcoming documentary The Capote Tapes, which draws on a never-before-heard audio archive. At the end of his speech, he asked the graduates to pull out their phones and take a selfie.

“In the future, there will be days you don’t feel so glorious, and you question yourself and you doubt yourself, and you will be your own worst critic. It’s happened to me. It’s happened to all of us,” he said. “I want you to look back on that picture you took of yourself. Captured forever in those pixels, that is a person who survived the strangest senior year possible, who worked a lot of long hours and late nights, who has the whole world in front of them. A person, who, in the midst of a global pandemic, overcame every hurdle and earned a diploma from the best damn university on the planet. … No matter what happens in the future, that person will always be there for you. Right when you think your legs are giving out, that’s the person who will kick forward. At the end of the day, that’s what really matters.”