Undergraduate commencement speakers focus on truth and emotion


Students turn their tassels to the other side of their graduation caps at the undergraduate commencement ceremony Saturday in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. Yulin Yu and Yulin Yu Buy Photos

6,913 undergraduate students, part of a graduating class ranging in age from 19 to 72 and coming to IU campuses across the state from 133 countries, were officially awarded their degrees Saturday.

University President Michael McRobbie led the afternoon commencement ceremony for IU Bloomington, relocated to the Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall after weather was forecasted to threaten the planned outdoor ceremony at Memorial Stadium.

“You have learned how to learn, and how to inhabit the life of the mind,” McRobbie said. “Our ceremony is but brief compared with the years of diligent effort that these candidates have invested in their education.”

McRobbie’s opening remarks also included a moment of silence for IU students who died during their time at IU but would have graduated with the 2017 class.

IU Alumnus Douglas Van Houweling was then awarded an honorary degree in recognition of his work on internet 

“While Dr. Houweling was teaching at the University of Michigan in the mid-1980s, he began making the first of his many contributions to shaping the internet as we know it today,” said IU Vice President for IT Bradley C. Wheeler.

Anne-Marie Slaughter, current CEO of New America and former dean of Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International affairs, served as commencement speaker.

“She is a foreign policy expert and a champion of women’s issues,” President McRobbie said. “As the Chief Executive Officer of New America, she is focusing on renewing the country in the age of the internet.”

Slaughter addressed the changing 
priorities of education, and the value of the education that graduates have received.

“What is education for?” Slaughter asked to open her speech. “When I was an undergraduate, a large part of the answer was the cultivation of reason and the suppression of emotion.”

“Let me certainly not be heard to denounce reason, your faculty members are relived. But today we are learning much more about the nature and importance of emotion.”

Slaughter encouraged graduates to not separate reason and emotion, and instead to seek “a deeper understanding of how reason and emotion combine and intertwine.”

Slaughter also spoke about the importance of liberal arts in an increasingly technological world.

“The parents in the audience who prevailed upon their children to follow the ‘techie’ path are smiling,” she said. “They know their children are set. I, however, am the mother of two college age sons. An actor, and a jazz pianist.”

Slaughter concluded by again asking “What is education for?”

“To grow and flourish as human beings,” she said. “As we come to understand the fullness of our own humanity, we are better able to see and connect to the humanity of others.”

After the induction of graduates into the IU Alumni Association, President McRobbie introduced student speaker McKayla Bull, who graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in human development and family studies.

Bull spoke about her experience at IU, including her time abroad and time spent as a co-founder and rider for the Phoenix Little 500 women’s team, before addressing her classmates and the shared memories they will have.

“Think back to your first day at IU,” Bull said. “Who were you? I’m willing to bet big money that you are a better person today than when you set foot on this campus.”

In his closing remarks President McRobbie spoke to graduates about the importance of facts.

“Facts do exist, and are beyond argument, dispute or opinion, and truth does matter,” McRobbie said.

McRobbie warned students that facts and truth face attacks from “a fundamental rejection in some quarters of basic science” and “political upheaval.”

“You graduate today into what is being called the post-truth era,” he said.

“But as a great educational and research institution, Indiana University stands for truth.”

Before introducing Provost Lauren Robel to confer upon them their degrees, McRobbie asked graduates to join the University in taking this stand.

“Venerate the truth,” McRobbie said. “Search for it, and defend it when it is challenged.”

Editor’s note: Due to the change of venue, two undergraduate commencement ceremonies were held Saturday. This reporting reflects the afternoon ceremony.

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