Department of English, College of LAS, University of Illinois

Illinois Department of English Blog


Welcome to the Department of English blog.

My name is Vicki Mahaffey and I took over as
head of the department on July 1, 2016. I'll be using this site to post updates and information of interest to our faculty, students, and alumni,
along with reflections about our discipline(s) in particular and the humanities in general. As anyone who has ever worked or studied here knows, the Department of English is a vibrant place. If you have something you'd like to see posted here, or if you want to contact me about the content of this blog, drop me an email at

Monday, May 17, 2010

Convocation 2010

This past Saturday the English Department held its 2010 convocation ceremony in Foellinger Auditorium. Planning these events takes a lot of doing (HUGE thanks to Deb Kimme and Bob Steltman for all their organizational work on this, and to Claire Billing, Penny Soskin, Steven Davenport, Syd Slobodnik, and Barbara Hall for their help with the running of the event), but the ceremonies themselves always totally justify the effort. I find them quite moving, year after year, because the happiness and pride of the graduating students and their families is so palpable. The joy of the event puts all the work we all do all year as teachers and mentors into the proper perspective by reminding us of what graduating means to students and to their families.

This year--maybe because my own bright red doctoral robes stood out so identifiably amidst the blue robes of our graduates--I wound up speaking to a great many students on the quad after the ceremony and I also posed for quite a number of happy family pictures. I have to say, there really is no better moment in the academic year than the hour or so after the convocation ceremony, when the students have recessed out of the building and reunited with beaming friends and families. Faculty--feeling maybe a little silly in their medieval, be-tasseled costumes, but also proud to represent an institution that means so much to people's lives--wander around and offer congratulations freely. One speaks to students one has just given an exam to last week, but also to people one doesn't even know and to the parents and grandparents of new graduates who tell you what this event means to them. And this year, despite clouds that threatened all afternoon, the rain held up just long enough to let it all unfold as it should. All the conventional things one says in the context of a graduate ceremony--about pride, hard work, and accomplishment, or about how the students' achievements reflect also the love and support of friends and family--come vividly to life in the mingling, festive crowd outside the auditorium.

This year's alumni speaker, Dan Whaley, received his degree in Rhetoric from the English Department in 1990, before hitting on the exceedingly bright idea, a few years later, that there might be a future in e-commerce and travel-booking in the early days of the world wide web. He spoke--sometimes comically, sometimes very seriously indeed--about the urgency of the challenges and the size of the opportunities facing the class of 2010, and about the importance, going forward, of the ability to imagine, critique, and communicate fostered in an English major. The full text of his speech can be found here.

The heart of the ceremony, of course, is acknowledging the accomplishments of all the BA, MA, MFA and PhD students graduating from the department this year, and my personal favorite thing about graduation ceremonies themselves is the way family members shout from the balconies when the student they've come to see walks across the stage. We also recognize the students who have earned distinction and high-distinction in English by writing an honors thesis, and I'd like to list the names of these students here as well, in alphabetical order: Elizabeth Blair, Margaret Carrigan, Sunanna Chand, Matthew Cherry, Alexander Christie, Mary Colleen Correll, Sarah Dickson, Rebecca Finkel, Michael Gastiger, Jeffrey Girten, Sarah Glover, Heather Smith Grattan, Miles Lincoln, Stephanie Luke, Timothy McGinty, Kathleen Roney, Mary Russell, Stephanie Sadler, Debra Walsh, Kenneth Webb, Sylvia Wolak. I like to celebrate the achievements of these students because the experience of writing a senior thesis is such a meaningful and challenging one, an opportunity to undertake original research and thus to take charge, maybe for the first time, of the framework in which knowledge is created.

Most of all, though, I'd just like to use this space to offer my congratulations, on behalf of the faculty and staff of the English Department, to the class of 2010 and to all of the friends and family members who have helped make their achievements here possible.


Anonymous said...

The commencement speech this year was absolutely tremendous. I was genuinely, and pleasantly, surprised. Kudos.

Curtis said...

Agreed! All the kudos, of course, go to Dan (I hope he reads this).

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