They came into Assembly Hall on Saturday sporting sunglasses, chomping gum, chatting on cell phones and wearing caps that read “Hi Mom” and “Let Me Stay.” Cameras flashed and the crowd cheered as students filled seats – IU’s 179th Commencement ceremony had begun.
Commencement was split up into two sessions, one at 10 a.m. and one at 3 p.m. Special guests included IU’s 14th president, John Ryan, Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and New York Times crossword editor Will Shortz.
Students were done with finals and ready to graduate, but Shortz, this year’s commencement speaker, had one final test in store for them.
“Seniors, I’m not saying your score on this quiz will determine whether you graduate or not,” he said. “But let’s just say there will be another graduation opportunity in the future.”
Shortz’s quiz consisted of four multiple-choice answers concerning the unusual majors of some famous IU alumni, such as musician and songwriter Hoagy Carmichael and movie producer Michael Uslan. Carmichael majored in law, while Uslan created the first college-accredited comic book class.
“The lesson here is that your major doesn’t determine your career,” Shortz told the students. “Do something you love. Whatever your major was, you should have received a well-rounded education.”
Shortz graduated from IU with an Individualized Major Program degree in “enigmatology,” or the study of puzzles. His classes focused on English, math, philosophy, journalism and linguistics. He also has a Juris Doctorate from the University of Virginia.
“He is the only person in the world to hold a degree in the study of puzzles,” IU President Michael McRobbie said. “If anyone is an example of a liberal arts education, it’s him.”
After his speech, McRobbie honored Shortz with the Thomas Hart Benton Mural Medallion, which represents the search for knowledge. IU also gave an honorary degree to Sirleaf, who McRobbie said has “served humanity with conviction.” Sirleaf is Africa’s first elected female head of state.
But after all the speeches and award-giving, the day belonged to the seniors.
“This is a day of pride at your achievements,” McRobbie told the students.
Josh Ernstberger, a finance major, described commencement as bittersweet.
“I felt a great sense of accomplishment for all of my hard work, and also I know I’m moving on,” he said. “I’ve been here for four years and I’m ready to take the next step.”
Ernstberger said he has a job with ArcelorMittal in Chicago as a financial analyst. He got wind of the job through the Career Services Office at the business school, and landed it two weeks ago.
“If you’re going to ask me what I’ll miss about IU, the answer is everything,” he said. “I’m going to miss the friends that are moving away, and Bloomington as a city. It’s a melting pot of cultures here. There are people from all over the world.”
Ernstberger’s last official day at IU will definitely be a lifelong memory.
“Just being in Assembly Hall and walking through the corridors was a really cool experience,” he said. “I’m going to remember just walking in for the first time, turning my tassel to the left, and seeing my family for the first time after the ceremony.”
Rohun Rangnekar, a finance and entrepreneurship major, agreed.
“It was a once in a lifetime experience,” he said. “You’ve spent four years here, so you might as well celebrate.”
Rangnekar also acknowledged the importance of the people he has come to know at IU through his fraternity, Kappa Sigma, and other activities.
“I’m going to miss all the friends I’ve met. I have friends in the Greek system and Student Athletic Board,” he said. “Not seeing them on a regular basis is what I’m going to miss the most. You just learn so much from everybody you know.”
Rangnekar also already has a job lined up for him with Cardinal Health, which is based in Columbus. The company will move him every year for three years before he can settle down.
Although Rangnekar and Ernstberger were lucky enough to leave college with a job, many members of the graduating class are in the same situation as one student who waved a sign at the commencement audience: Four years’ tuition: $80,000. Food and booze: $40,000. Graduation cap and gown: $80. Graduating without a job: Priceless.