The University of Chicago Graham School Spring Quarter Convocation
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The University of Chicago Graham School Spring Quarter Convocation

[TRUMPETS SOUNDING] MARK R. NEMEC: Please be seated. Welcome. Thank you for joining us
on this wondrous occasion. When founding president William
Rainey Harper and John D. Rockefeller established
the University of Chicago, they embarked on a
radical experiment– an experiment predicated on
a belief that higher learning should be marked by research,
not recitation, extension, not insularity. Central to this experiment
was a commitment to lifelong learning– an
effort to specifically reach, and I quote, “Those
who lived beyond campus and did not fall
into established categories of students.” End quote. This experiment soon became
a model of the 20th century university, as the forces of
urbanization, globalization, and technology accelerated
the adoption of the University of Chicago’s novel approach. With this convocation, we
conclude the university’s 125th anniversary and we
celebrate your achievements as the natural continuation
of that experiment, which started a quarter century
and a century ago. Your effort, dedication,
and commitment to advancing your knowledge
and your capabilities embody this university’s
founding values. At the same time,
the exact forces that drove the creation of
the 20th century university are driving the evolution
of higher education today. This, along with the
ongoing redefinition of what it means to be
a student and an alum, suggests that not only
are we celebrating today with an eye towards
the past, we also are celebrating today
with a very specific eye towards the future. Your accomplishments reflect not
only our core founding values, but both Graham’s
and the University of Chicago’s commitment to be
a model of the 21st century university. So on behalf of the
instructors and administration at the Graham School, as
well as those gathered here– family and friends– our most
heartfelt congratulations. It’s our hope that
you’ll consider the University of Chicago not as
a moment of study, but rather, as your intellectual
destination. Your academic home now and
for many years to come. Again, congratulations. We will now present
candidates for the degrees Master of Liberal Arts, Master
of Science and Analytics, Master of Science in Threat
and Response Management, and Master of Arts in Teaching. MARY DANIELS: It is my honor
to present these students who have completed the program
of studies prescribed by the faculty of the William
B. And Catherine V. Graham School of Continuing Liberal
and Professional Studies. They have been awarded the
degree Master of Liberal Arts by the Board of Trustees. Will the recipients of the
degree Master of Liberal Arts please rise and proceed to the
stage to receive your degree? [READING NAMES] ROBERT SCHNIEDERS:
It my distinct honor to present these students
who have completed the program of
studies prescribed by the faculty of the William
B. and Catherine V. Graham School of Continuing Liberal
and Professional Studies. They have been
awarded the degree of Master of Science
and Analytics by the Board of Trustees. Will the recipients
of the degree of Master of Science
and Analytics please rise and proceed to the
stage to receive your degree? [READING NAMES] ROBERT SCHNIEDERS: It
is also my great honor to present these students
who have completed the program of
studies prescribed by the faculty of the William
B. and Catherine V. Graham School of Continuing Liberal
and Professional Studies. They have been awarded the
degree of Master of Science in Threat and
Response Management by the Board of Trustees. Will the recipients
of the degree of Master of Science in
Threat and Response Management please rise and proceed
to receive your degree? [READING NAMES] SARA RAY STOELINGA:
It is my honor to present these students
who have completed the program of
studies prescribed by the faculty of the William
B. and Catherine V. Graham School of Continuing Liberal
and Professional Studies. They have been awarded
the degree Master of Arts in Teaching by the
Board of Trustees. Will the recipients
of the degree of Master of Arts in
teaching please rise and proceed to the stage
to receive your degrees? [APPLAUSE] [READING NAMES] [CHEERS] [LAUGHTER] MARK R. NEMEC: So it’s
my distinct honor to, again, congratulate all of you–
these graduates of the Graham School, Master of Liberal
Arts, Master of Science, and Master of Arts and Teaching. Again, congratulations. [APPLAUSE] It is now my distinct
honor and privilege to introduce our featured
speaker, Ian Solomon. Ian has led the University of
Chicago’s Global Engagement Office since 2013. With colleagues in Chicago,
Beijing, New Delhi, Hong Kong, and the world over, the
Global Engagement team has supported international
programs and partnerships, overseas centers and campuses,
research collaborations, and innovative, global
education opportunities. Ian came to Chicago
from President Obama’s administration,
in which he served as Executive Director
for the World Bank Group from 2010 to 2013 and
represented the United States in multilateral
diplomacy and multi-stakeholder agreements. Prior to that, Ian
worked as senior adviser to Treasury Secretary
Timothy Geithner, as legislative counsel to
then senator Barack Obama. He has also been associate
dean at Yale Law School and a consultant with McKinsey. Ian is moving on
from his position at the University of Chicago at
the end of this academic year to paint his own
campus and become CEO of Solomon Global, a
business devoted to building capacity for negotiation,
collaboration, and cooperation in complex
situations around the world. Solomon Global offers
unique learning experiences and strategic advisory
and facilitation services to individuals,
organizations, and partnerships worldwide. Ian is originally
from New York City. He earned his AB,
magna cum laude, from Harvard University
and his JD from Yale. He has traveled extensively in
Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America and has also
lived in South Africa. He is the recipient of numerous
awards and designations, and in 2012, was selected
as a young global leader by the World Economic Forum. He resides in Chicago
and Washington, DC, with his wonderful
wife and two sons. And a personal
note– I have to say, having been recruited here
as dean two years ago, it was Ian’s vision, Ian’s
leadership, and his friendship that helped convince me
to make this journey. And I’m forever
grateful for him. And when, as dean, one
gets the opportunity to ask someone to
address our graduates, I couldn’t think of a better
person to share his thoughts. So let me introduce Ian Solomon. [APPLAUSE] I’m going to move
this if it’s OK. Thank you, Dean Nemec. You make me sound so serious. But I love the energy in
this room, it’s fantastic. It really is an honor to
be here with the Graham School for the 527th convocation
of the University of Chicago. It has been a privilege to
witness the creative vitality of the Graham School,
which has been an essential thread of
the university fabric since the very beginning. So congratulations, graduates. You look great. I’m excited for you. And you’ve worked
hard to be here today. We’ve really made you sweat,
though mostly metaphorically before today. But I hope you can
bask, or at least soak, in the well deserved glory
with your loved ones, and I have no doubt you will. We are proud of you and
proud to welcome you to a wonderful community
of alumni and friends. Embrace this
community and I hope it will enrich your
lives intellectually, socially, professionally,
spiritually, and unexpectedly,
for decades to come. I’m happy for all of you
and I’m happy for myself that we get to be here in
this very special hall, named for the
legendary photographer Gordon Parks, one of
my creative heroes. Today, I want to tell you
about another hero of mine. About two years ago, my mother,
an artist and a K-12 teacher, started to teach me to paint. It was not my first painting
lesson, but the first in about 30 years. We’d sit on the beach
near her home in Florida and secure our
canvas to the easel so it would not blow away. Or we’d sit in her backyard
under the tall trees and by the dense woods. And I’d recognize
the familiarity of her short, stubby
fingers squeezing paint from colored tubes
onto clean palette paper pinned to a garden
table with little stones. And she would tell me to look
at what I wanted to draw, to look carefully,
to really see it. To look beyond what I
believed the objects were supposed to look
like and, rather, to see the sand or the
trees or the bushes as they actually were. To see the shape and contour,
the darks and lights, the depth and texture, the true reality. She taught me how to
frame out my subject using my hands so that I
could focus on the composition that I wanted to draw. Or to reframe the scene
if that worked better. Notice what is in, what
is out of the frame. And then she’d ask me
to sketch what I saw. The first line is always
the most difficult. Marking the blank canvas
puts you, suddenly, in charge of the outcome. I now owned the painting. It was my responsibility. After I painted
for a short while, she’d remind me to take a couple
steps back from the canvas to observe the picture
from a greater distance to reflect on how the
parts make up the whole. And to gain
perspective on the way the micro detail, when
I’m painting up close, did or did not matter
as I’d step away to the overall
expression of the piece. My mom would encourage
me to experiment, to use the edge of a
knife, or even a shell, rather than a brush. Sometimes she would
make sand into the paint to change the texture and
add more depth and dimension to her own paintings. If I had a question about
technique, she’d say, watch me. Let me help you. And she’d take my
brush and demonstrate. Now you try it, she’d say. One of her tricks was rotating
the canvas on its side, or even upside down,
so we could observe it from a new perspective. Challenge our assumptions. Be pushed to see
images in a fresh way. My mom didn’t mind that
a painting resemble– didn’t demand that a painting
resemble the subject being painted. The emotional content
mattered more. Paint what you feel,
she would tell me. And I was encouraged by her to
find new ideas on the canvas itself. I see a face here,
she might say, as if identifying forms
in a passing cloud. What do you see? She celebrated any invitation
to be more imaginative and more creative. I don’t recall her seeing
anything on a canvas that she considered a mistake. Whatever was there was just
something to be worked with. Once, I remember, I became
extremely frustrated trying to represent,
in my painting, the delicate lips on the figure
of a small, cracked statue that she had in her backyard. The mouth on my
canvas had become a muddy mess– too
dark, too heavy, too wet with paint to work with. Take a break, she said. Let the paint dry and
then come back to it. If you need to, you can
always repaint it white and start over. In fact, through
the years, she would revisit some of
her own paintings, long after they were finished
and discover new ideas and inspiration. She might paint over
a section, largely burying what had existed
there– undisturbed for years– with new colors and new forms,
bringing out new meaning and possibility. What is ever
finished, she’d ask. My mom, Linda– or Mrs.
Solomon to her students– was ill for more than two years. I visited her on many
weekends and we’d talk and draw and paint. And when she was able,
we would take long walks along the beach. She’d once loved to dance while
she painted, like Mr. Oliver. Painting was a form
of dance to her. But as her body declined,
she danced less and less. And more and more, she had
to sit and wait for a canvas to be brought to her. Painting, for her, was
a metaphor for life. Be the artist of your
life, she would say. All life can be art. Work with what you’ve got. I recall one day when we were
setting up in her studio, getting ready to start painting. I unfolded the
easel, I pulled out a clean sheet of pallet
paper, I assembled my paints and the water and
the blotter cloth, and brushes. I picked out a canvas to
use, I grabbed some charcoal. I had to go wash my hands,
decided to get a snack, decided to stare at
the canvas some more. Get started already, she said. Enough with the set up. And this may have been one
of her greatest lessons. Take action. Get started. Enough with the set up. This was just a few
weeks before she died, about three months ago. She had been battling
ovarian cancer and the cancer finally won. No more walks on the beach,
no more dancing, no more life lessons through painting. Before she died,
she told me that she hoped I would keep painting and
that my kids would paint, too. Let life be your teacher. There’s beauty all around us. Never stop learning, and
paint your own canvas. So I’ve been reflecting
on her advice. Each time I grab
the phone because I want to tell her
something or want to share a photo of her grandson
playing piano or graduating from the middle school
at Lab– like my son Miles did this past
Tuesday– I miss her. Work with what you’ve
got, never stop learning, paint your own canvas. I still hear her voice,
loving me, encouraging me. And there is an idea that
I have been harboring for a very long time– mixing
its paint colors, perhaps, in my mind, but just in my mind. It was an idea
that lodged itself in my consciousness many years
ago and has refused to leave. Perhaps the idea was
born in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1993, when
I was there to witness the end of apartheid–
achieved, finally, through a negotiated agreement
to hold the country’s first democratic election. Or perhaps the idea
was born earlier, when a movie called
The Day After portrayed the consequences of nuclear
war with the Soviet Union. Maybe the idea was seated even
earlier than that, when my mom and introduced me to the stories
of Martin Luther King, Jr. or Mohandas Gandhi. Or maybe when I first
learned the story of my namesake, the very wise
King Solomon, who threatened to split a baby in half in order
to resolve a dispute over who was the rightful parent. The idea is that we
can improve the quality and quantity of cooperation. How do we, as a species,
learn to coexist without annihilating ourselves
and destroying our planet? From climate change
to pandemic disease to nuclear proliferation
to terrorism, and all the threats
you may have studied in your program on threat
response and management, the greatest problems we face
are challenges of corporation. They can only be solved
by improving cooperation. Imagine, if you
will, a world where more people have the tools to
negotiate nonviolent solutions to problems. Imagine if our
habitual responses could be based on
finding common ground and collaborating,
even with people who were different from us. Imagine if we were to achieve
the same pace of innovation for cooperation as we do for
communication, computation, transportation, and war. Can you imagine? We just might save the lives
of a few teenagers killed violently each weekend in
Chicago or Rio or Johannesburg. We just might spare
a few thousand people in Aleppo, Kabul,
or northern Mali the trauma of war and dislocation. We just might inch closer to
an international agreement to really protect this
precious Earth from the ravages of our modern lives. This is my canvas. This is my challenge–
to advance the art and science of cooperation. To build the capacity of
peace builders and catalysts of cooperation. To create
transformative learning experiences that help
people work together to resolve disputes at home,
at work, and everywhere. To develop tools that
foster collaboration and enable the social
whole to be greater than the sum of our
individual parts. And I believe this is very
much your challenge, too, whether your work involves
threat response, analytics, teaching, liberal arts. And the instrument of
cooperation is negotiation. Negotiation is
the means by which we navigate through a
world of diverse interests, not only when we sit on opposite
sides of the table talking about a contract, but
each and every day. Negotiation is the discussion
with a spouse about where to go to dinner, with a
colleague about which food truck to go to, or the debate
with a child about bed time because Mom or Dad has to study. Or the moment in traffic when
you want to change lanes. Whenever we seek the cooperation
of another, we are negotiating. And often, we’re hoping
to lower the costs or increase the benefits
of that corporation. Negotiation is a skill that
improves with mindful practice. And like the art of
painting, it is something that we can learn and
get better at over time. In fact, I like to apply some
of my mom’s painting lessons to negotiation, and I hope that
these might be helpful to you, too. First, the importance of seeing
what’s really there and not merely what you imagine
should be the situation, based on your preconceived
expectations or biases. Working hard to understand the
issues actually in front of you and what’s driving
your interests and the other party’s interests. Use all the tools
at your disposal, from observation to data
analytics to intuition. Second is the value
in being able to frame and potentially reframe
issues that are in contention. Does it help to include
more items within the frame or to exclude certain features? Seek a manageable set
of items to handle, like in the painting, and
make sure you’re focusing on the issues in context. Third, recognize
how useful it can be to step back from
the negotiation– take a few steps back,
periodically– and take in the big picture with
a more diffuse lens. One of my great negotiation
mentors, William Ury, has suggested that we
should metaphorically go to the balcony so that
we can observe the unfolding negotiation with greater
detachment and distance. We also need to be
willing to take a break and let the paint dry. Rather than continuing to fish
in the mud for good solutions, sometimes we need to be
willing to walk away. The fourth lesson is the insight
that we should occasionally turn a dispute on
its side, or flip it upside down so it
can be analyzed from a new perspective. We need the courage to find new
ways of seeing old problems. And the fifth lesson,
we should experiment with new tools or approaches. Let’s mix some sand with
paint, accept and reciprocate invitations to be creative. The best solutions will satisfy
all parties in more ways than they had expected. I think we also
need– and this is lesson six– to be willing
to continue to improve things after we think they’re finished. Once an agreement
has been reached, can we go back to make it
better for all parties involved? Go back to the proverbial
table, back to the canvas. Was it ever finished anyway? Make it better. Seven. Life can be our teacher. We all negotiate
every single day. We have numerous opportunities
to study behavior and response, to try out different approaches,
both for our own benefit and for mutual benefit. We can collect the data on our
lives, and the interactions, and reflect upon them. Study our own thoughts
and our feelings, study our actions
and their results. And with empathy, we can
understand the same for others. Let’s be students of negotiation
who never stop learning. As our teaching graduates
today here know, the most important skill
is learning how to learn. Number eight is to remember
the importance of emotion. If you really want to
change someone’s mind or their behavior, if you want
to motivate them or impact their lives, you have to reach
them at an emotional level. You have to tell stories
and capture images that they can grasp at the
level of their humanity and vulnerability. And finally, ask for help. Sometimes you should
let someone else handle a negotiation for
you or show you the way. In fact, you are
surrounded in this room today by many people who can
be your allies, your advocates, your assistants, your advisers,
your agents in negotiation. They can be your teachers. They may also include
some of your heroes. Pay attention to
them while you can. Appreciate them and thank them. They support you and want to
help, just like my mom always wanted to help me. But for me, and
maybe also for you, there’s at least
one more lesson. It is often through tragedy or
failure that we find our voice, grab hold of our paint brush,
and discover our power. Great achievements
are born from failure. They rise from the ashes,
like the symbolic phoenix on the U Chicago logo. An event that may appear
to be a tragedy or mistake is, in the end, just
something to be worked with. My mom’s passing, and then
cleaning up her art supplies, forced me to confront
an important question. What have I been waiting for? What are you waiting for? Enough with the set up. Don’t wait for a tragic loss. It’s time to paint
your own canvas. Each of you here is blessed
with the sacred opportunity to be the artist
of your own life. To sketch out an
authentic future, even if it’s
intimidating to begin and you don’t know
where you might end up. The diverse journeys that
brought you here today show your commitment
to lifelong learning. Join me in committing,
also, to long life learning. Let life be our teacher. Find the lessons every
day in every experience, positive or negative. Be grateful for the
opportunity to learn, even from tragedy and failure. Even as we soak in the joy
of today’s celebration. Today, we mark an
important accomplishment and congratulate you
for your achievement. But in that same breath,
I want to remind you that your canvas
is ready for you. Your masterpiece is waiting. What are you waiting for? Thank you. [APPLAUSE] BRIDGET COLLIER: Thank you, Ian. At this time, we’d like to
thank our friends and family who have joined you
in celebration today, and who have supported
you during your time in your program. Graduates, please join me
in thanking your friends and family. [APPLAUSE] We now invite our
graduates and guests to a reception located in
the atrium just outside of this auditorium. Guests, please
remain in your seats until after our platform
party and graduates have left the hall. [TRUMPETS SOUNDING]

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