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 23, 2011

Convocation 2011

I'll post some pictures later--when I get them from the photographers--but I thought I might post here about our annual convocation ceremony, held this year on May 14th at Foellinger Auditorium. [Added on 6/20: a couple of pictures!]

As always, I love these ceremonies: faculty looking slightly goofy in robes, but happy nonetheless to see their students; students, also in robes, full of well-earned pride; and families--often multiple generations--celebrating accomplishments, too. Corny as it may be to say so, this is for me one of the moments that puts everything in perspective: it puts a cap (a mortarboard?) on the academic year and reminds me what all of the teaching we do is ultimately about.

I'd like to congratulate this year's graduates here, and to honor the undergraduate students who earned departmental honors (distinction or high distinction) as listed in the ceremony's program: Gabriela Asrow, Julia Bassewitz, Kathleen Blair, Justine Chan, Elizabeth Cohon, Danielle DeFranco, Erin Dittmer, Simon Fields, Marcos Hernandez, Lauren Hise, Shannon Jilek, Kathleen Kinsella, Josette Lorig, Lisa Malvin, Kendra Muntz, Quinn Myers, Valerie O'Brien, Jaqueline Patton, Andrew Rockway, Brenda Rodriguez, Adam Sadik, Amelia Wallrich. I'm singling these students out here not only because they have achieved distinction (though they have--only about 10% of our 2011 graduates appear on this list!), but because they have undertaken and completed a thesis project. This means that they have taken it upon themselves to do original research in some field of English studies. I can still remember from my own undergraduate days (in the 80s!) what that felt like: the challenge of adopting for the first time a new disposition towards knowledge, moving from classwork (where a professor sets the parameters of study) into a project where I was supposed to set the terms of engagement. This takes nerve, and the completion of a first such project really is something to celebrate.

Our convocation speaker this year was Dr. Lynn Hartmann, a 1970 graduate of our department and now a Professor of Oncology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester Minnesota. I had met Dr. Hartmann a few years ago, when she returned to our campus as a recipient of a Distinguished Alumni Award from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and I was struck at that time by the way she spoke about connections between the humane curiosity about life that is fed by a humanities-based liberal arts degree and her subsequent engagement with the lives and life experiences of her patients. You can get a sense of what I mean by reading a short biographical sketch she wrote up and published a few years back in the Journal of the American Medical Association called "The Octogenarian's Plan". So I was delighted that she agreed to speak to the class of 2011, and I thought she was wonderful.

We did not have the crisp, sunny day we hoped for, but the rain held off and we were able to mingle on the quad after the ceremony. This is one of my favorite parts of the event, actually, because I get to congratulate graduates and their proud families, to pose for pictures with students I've worked with, and generally to bask in the reflected warmth of everyone's good feelings. This last part of the event tends also to be a chance to meet the families of PhD students I've worked with who are preparing to leave town and take up new positions--and this year there were three PhDs in my own area who were there with their families and who are all now preparing to take up new jobs on the east coast.

Congratulations to all of our newly minted alums, and best of luck with whatever comes next!

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