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Celebrating an Ambitious Learning Adventure

The Graham School recognized its latest MLA graduates at Spring 2023 Diploma Ceremony.

Convocation speaker

When the pandemic afforded Sarah Carson an unexpected opportunity to invest in herself and follow her interests in literature and art, the Chicago resident took it.

In 2021, Carson began pursuing a Master of Liberal Arts (MLA) degree at the University of Chicago’s Graham School, diving into a rigorous, interdisciplinary program designed for accomplished professionals and ambitious learners.

“Honestly, I initially thought this might be more of a hobby,” Carson confessed.

From her first MLA course in ethnography – a first ever social science class for Carson – to a residential seminar titled Foundations of Humanistic Inquiry, however, Carson found herself immersed in an intellectual adventure that sharpened her critical thinking and deepened her knowledge of the world. In quick time, the presumed hobby became an invigorating, transformative exploration.

“It was a completely life-enriching experience,” Carson said.

On Saturday, June 3, Carson and others who had recently completed their MLA studies gathered at the University of Chicago Gordon Parks Arts Hall Auditorium for the Graham School’s Spring 2023 Diploma Ceremony. The afternoon event also honored graduates of the University’s MA in Teaching, MS in Biomedical Informatics, and MS in Threat and Response Management.

A degree for the modern world

Graham School Dean Seth Green began the celebration commending students for earning their graduate degrees while maintaining busy lives filled with personal and professional responsibilities. He then stressed the enduring value of a UChicago education, particularly its focus on challenging students “how to think, not what to think” amid an era of significant societal and global change.

“The education and the values [the University of Chicago] stands for have never been more relevant and more essential to your ability to contribute to our world and live an examined life of purpose,” Green told graduates.

Following Green, convocation alumni speaker Rosemarie Mitchell (pictured above) discussed her journey from growing up in a blue-collar Italian family to becoming the CEO of a successful technology company. She recounted how saying “no” at first and later “yes” enhanced the trajectory of her life, as Mitchell spent three decades running ABS Associates together with her husband, Tom. The Chicago area firm provided outsourced service desk, desktop, and network support to major corporations.

Having long dreamed of a graduate education, Mitchell enrolled in the Graham MLA program with her husband and they took their courses together. Both were overjoyed on graduation day and for them the best news was that the learning need never stop. In recent years, they have developed an appreciation for modern art, a richer view of American history, and a deeper understanding of the origins of capitalism that engaged their minds and informed their worldview.

“How lucky we are to have this jewel of an institution and all the discoveries it offers to our curious minds and grateful hearts,” she said of Graham before sharing a quote attributed to Socrates: “Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.”

“Be careful what you say ‘no’ to because you never know where ‘yes’ could lead you,” she added.

Continue embracing ‘intellectual fearlessness’

Like Carson, Alvaro Iriarte enrolled in the MLA program to invest in his personal and professional growth.

An attorney in his native Chile, Iriarte began his MLA studies virtually in 2021 before moving to Chicago to complete the degree in person. At Graham, Iriarte found an energizing environment of intellectual respect and freedom as well as peers eager to expand their knowledge base and, even more, share their insights and diverse experiences with others.

“I’ve spent all my career thinking about issues from a legal perspective, but here I was introduced to perspectives from the humanities and social sciences that challenged me to approach things from different angles and become more tolerant to differences,” Iriarte said. “Enrolling in Graham is the best decision I ever made.”

Enriching as the academic journey for MLA graduates like Carson and Iriarte was, longtime Graham instructor Edward Kolb, the Arthur Holly Compton Distinguished Service Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at UChicago, encouraged students to continue learning by following the intellectual fearlessness that brought them to Graham in the first place.

“Your degree will not be the end of your intellectual journey,” Kolb reminded graduates while singling out opportunities at Graham such as the Fortnight in Oxford and courses in the Basic Program of Liberal Education for Adults. “The degree you earn today is not the end of the road. Learning should be a lifelong pursuit.”

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Daniel P. Smith

Freelance Writer

Daniel P. Smith is a freelance writer at the Graham School.

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