The tent had been installed days earlier on the uppermost terraces of the SGIS lawn, in the hopes that the shelter would keep the ground from becoming completely saturated. There was a break in the clouds on Friday afternoon (May 5), but the days of torrential rain that had led up to the SGIS graduation convocation had already activated the contingency plan.
The atrium brightened as students stood poised to descend the staircase to receive their degrees and families and friends filled seats arranged around a makeshift stage. The rain location provided an opportunity not only to admire the building’s interior, but to reflect on the symbolism of its decorative scheme. Opening the ceremony, SGIS Dean Lee Feinstein called attention to the multicolored bands on the wall beyond the staircase. “The wall of stones representing 10 countries connects this state’s limestone tradition to the world…Like the limestone that surrounds this magnificent wall, Indiana’s role in the world is solid and abiding.”
Congratulating students on their accomplishments, Feinstein reminded them of their connection to Indiana University’s longstanding global legacy. “From our earliest days, IU has been a welcoming environment for students and scholars from around the world. And we’ve served as an academic ambassador throughout the world.
“But today is about IU’s future,” Feinstein continued. “It’s about you. You’ve shown us that through your academic diligence, the initiative you’ve taken to seek out study abroad opportunities, scholarships, and internships, and in the community building you’ve done.”
The experiences shared by two graduating seniors spoke to the growth available along the SGIS degree path. In his remarks, Isaiah Curtis explained that his upbringing in the small Indiana town of Whiteland had not positioned him for a university education, let alone a global career. “As the fifth of six children,” Curtis said. “I am the first to attend and graduate from college. I was scared and had no idea what I was doing.”
An interest in languages prompted Curtis to apply to IU, where he enrolled in an Arabic class. “From the first day of class, I knew that I had made the right decision,” he added. “After taking Arabic, I fell in love with learning about the language, culture, religion and speakers. I had found my niche.”
Learning the language led to study of religion and history in the Middle East, along with more languages—Persian and Kurdish—an honors thesis, and a summer study abroad scholarship in Tajikistan. Curtis graduated with a double major in Central Eurasian Studies (Persian Language Track), Near Eastern Languages and Cultures (Arabic Language Track) and a Certificate in Islamic Studies. “With the education I have received at SGIS,” Curtis shared, “I no longer consider myself a citizen of Whiteland, Indiana, but a citizen of this globe.”
In her own remarks, Olivia Houston urged her fellow graduates to make the most of their global readiness. “Armed with a degree and the privilege of a higher education, the world is going to start listening to what we have to say,” the International Studies/Political Science double major announced. “They are going to believe that we know what we are talking about…We have had some of the finest minds as professors impart great knowledge, but also experiences to us. This school has, in fact, prepared us for what is to come.”
Houston, who minored in Economics, earned a Certificate in Global French, and spent her junior year at Sciences-Po in Aix-en-Provence, is headed to Notre Dame Law School to pursue her commitment to human rights.
After Houston spoke, Chair of International Studies Padraic Kenney and Chair of East Asian Languages & Cultures Scott O’Bryan read the names of the graduates arriving on stage along with their personal messages. Hailing from Bogota to Taipei, Yorba Linda to Churubusco, and Lebanon to Washington (their Indiana iterations, that is) students’ shared gratitude (“I could learn to say ‘thank you’ in a million languages and it still wouldn’t be enough.”) and inspiration (“My SGIS experience has given me more expansive visions of justice”).
SGIS awarded 95 baccalaureate degrees this spring, along with 35 master’s degrees and five Ph.Ds. Graduating seniors are embarking on Fulbright Scholarships to Brazil, Cyprus, France, and Malaysia, and Boren Scholarships in Azerbaijan, service in the Peace Corps in Botswana and Malawi, and careers in the US Army and Air Force. Others are going into the private sector and NGOs—in the Philippines and Uganda—and pursuing law degrees, degrees in social work, and doctoral studies in geography and anthropology.
For downloadable photos from the convocation ceremony, visit the SGIS Flickr page.