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Saturday, June 15, 2024

UW-Madison class of 2024 celebrates adaptability, adversity during commencement

Speakers included UW-Madison Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin, Olympic gold medalist Meghan Duggan, senior class officers and a MadHatters performance of “Sweet Caroline.”

The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s class of 2024 arrived Saturday at Camp Randall to celebrate their achievements at the spring commencement ceremony. 

The spring 2024 commencement ceremony marks just over four years since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down many activities across the nation, including high school graduations. For many bachelor’s degree graduates, this commencement offered resolution.

“The abrupt ending to high school and online classrooms didn’t really feel like there was a solid ending or transition,” said Raquel Rojano, a class of 2024 graduate. “I feel like I’m getting closure that I didn’t get from high school. It feels really nice to be celebrated.”

Roughly 8,586 degrees were awarded during graduation weekend, and 718 degrees were conferred to doctoral, Master of Fine Arts and medical professional degree candidates Friday at the Kohl Center. Saturday’s ceremony celebrated the remaining 7,868 degrees conferred to bachelor’s, master’s and law degree candidates.

The speakers — including  members of the UW-Madison 2024 senior class office, UW-Madison Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin and keynote speaker Meghan Duggan, Olympic Ice Hockey gold medalist — touched on the pandemic, current political landscape and adaptability in their speeches. 

“We would be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge the turmoil felt within our campus, our nation and beyond its borders,” said Ciboney Reglos, the diversity, equity and inclusion director for the class of 2024. “Yet through it all we persevere, demonstrating resilience and determination in the face of adversity.”

Mnookin reflected on the triumphs of the entire graduating class. She made note of the 26 Pulitzer Prize winners, 20 Nobel laureates and several innovations in research and technology UW-Madison alumni have.

Mnookin also addressed the current violence in Gaza and campus climate. For 12 days, pro-Palestine protesters camped on Library Mall demanding the disclosure and divestment of UW-Madison assets. As a part of a deal with campus administration to remove tents on Friday, organizers agreed not to interrupt graduation.

A small group of graduates were escorted out of the ceremony after holding up a Palestinian flag during Mnookin’s speech. Additionally, several other students and members of the crowd could be heard saying “free Palestine” and booing Mnookin throughout her speech. At this time, there is no known affiliation between the graduates and the pro-Palestine protesters at Library Mall.

“There is also pain and grief over the devastating destruction, injustice and loss of life in Gaza and in Israel…please know that you’re not alone in this difficult time,” Mnookin said.

In her closing remarks, Mnookin encouraged graduates to continue asking questions and pursue change.

“As you turn this new leaf, I hope — and I know you will — keep your sense of curiosity and purpose, your commitment to make our world a better place and your courage to keep asking questions, even ones that no one else may be asking,” Mnookin said.

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Duggan, a 2011 university alumni, urged the class of 2024 to be authentic, embrace failure and form meaningful connections with the people around them, offering the simple advice to “make good decisions.” 

“How will your time at the University of Wisconsin show up in the way that you move through the world?” Duggan said toward the end of her address.

Saturday’s commencement ceremony also included speeches from Provost Charles Lee Isbell Jr., UW System Board of Regents President Karen Walsh and senior class president Gracie Nelson, as well as a performance of “Sweet Caroline” by the MadHatters acapella group.

“It’s crucial to recognize our actions will hold little weight if they don’t echo the values we cultivated within ourselves,” Nelson said.

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