Wheaton College celebrates Class of 2024

Graduates toss their caps up in front of Welcome to Wheaton sign
Wheaton College Class of 2024 graduates celebrate. (Photo by Nicki Pardo)

Graduates urged to be resilient amid challenges, curious conversationalists, lifelong learners, practitioners of joy

Wheaton College celebrated its 189th Commencement on Saturday, May 18, 2024. Family, friends, alumni, staff, faculty and trustees gathered in the Dimple to honor the Class of 2024.

President Michaele Whelan began the ceremony by congratulating the 372 graduating seniors for all that they have accomplished.

“Each one of you should be proud of what you have achieved as students, scholars, athletes, activists, artists and members of this community—learning, growing, becoming who you were meant to be,” she told them.

Whelan also acknowledged the current challenges going on in the world.

President Michaele Whelan on stage speaking to the graduates
President Michaele Whelan on stage speaking to the graduates (Photo by Nicki Pardo)

“Even as we celebrate, we are aware that there are many people in the world who are suffering. … I’m thinking now of the conflict in Gaza and the humanitarian crisis there. Students on college campuses across the country have organized protests to call for a ceasefire, for the return of hostages, for the end of violence. Some Wheaton students have joined their voices to these varied calls. In keeping with our mission, Wheaton denounces violence, extends empathy, hopes for a ceasefire and a lasting peace, and seeks to repair the world,” Whelan said.

“The college is deeply committed to free expression and the exchange of ideas and opinions through debate and dialogue. It is foundational to our liberal arts and science mission of transformative education within a community that values and strives to create an equitable and just world,” she said. “Today, we are focused on being in community together and we are here to celebrate you, the Class of 2024, and witness the culmination of one stage of your learning.”

Community was the theme of the day as more than 400 alums returned to campus for Reunion, including Loraine Whiteford Parker from the Class of 1944 celebrating her 80th Reunion.

Looking toward the future, Whelan encouraged the seniors to practice joy every day of their lives.

“We can experience joy not solely as a feeling, but as an attitude, a practice, a way of meeting the world that acknowledges and navigates challenges, disappointments and heartache as much as it celebrates happy occasions,” Whelan said.

She also asked them to carry Wheaton with them out into the world. “As you head off from the Dimple, you will take with you all of the knowledge, skills, perspectives that you have gained from your studios, your studies in the classroom, from labs, from experience and living in and contributing to Wheaton,” she said. “Wherever you are going next, I know you will do wonderful things.”

Watch the livestream of the event.

 Dr. Carol Samuels-Botts, a Wheaton Class of 1974 alumna
Dr. Carol Samuels-Botts, a Wheaton Class of 1974 alumna, received an honorary doctor of science. (Photo by Nicki Pardo)

During the ceremony, honorary degrees were presented to Dr. Carol Samuels-Botts, a Wheaton Class of 1974 alumna, pediatrician and fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics; Lawrence S. Bacow, former president of Harvard University and Tufts University; and Mónica Guzmán, a bridge builder, journalist and author of I Never Thought of It That Way: How to Have Fearlessly Curious Conversations in Dangerously Divided Times.

Each of them also offered the graduates valuable advice during their remarks.

“Find your passion and pursue it despite early failures, which are pretty common. Learn to be resilient and persistent,” Samuels-Botts told them after sharing that her road to success almost took a detour, however, the support of her Wheaton friends and professors—as well as parents who would not let her give up on her dreams—kept her on track.

“Remember that representation matters a lot,” said Samuels-Botts, who helped create Wheaton’s Black Alumni Association. “Each of you has a unique story that tells about where you came from and where you are, and that story will inspire someone to find the best in themselves. This is your superpower. I implore you not to squander it, but use it for good. And, finally, learn to celebrate your success.”

Lawrence S. Bacow
Lawrence S. Bacow, former president of Harvard University and Tufts University, received an honorary doctor of laws. (Photo by Nicki Pardo)

Illustrating that education is a lifelong pursuit, Bacow talked about how much he learned while serving as a member of Wheaton’s Board of Trustees and how it prepared him for his top leadership roles.

“John Dewey once said that education is not preparation for life, it is life itself. Over the course of your lives, you will find yourselves doing things and going places that you could not have anticipated in your wildest dreams. I can assure you that Wheaton has prepared you well for this journey,” Bacow said. “In my wildest dreams, I never imagined I would someday become president of Harvard.”

Mónica Guzmán
Mónica Guzmán, a bridge builder, journalist and author, received an honorary doctor of humane letters. (Photo by Nicki Pardo)

Mónica Guzmán’s remarks were particularly timely, given the protests currently happening nationwide. Noting the importance of having discussions with those who have opposing ideas, she said she believes that “curious conversations” are key to trying to develop understanding when conflicts and tensions arise.

She encouraged graduating seniors to “welcome friction into your life,” for it forces one to ask questions of oneself and of others that sharpen points of view.

“You and your generation are going to find a braver way through the challenges out there. I’m seeing it, I’m feeling it. You have the hunger in your bones right now, in your biographies,” she said, pointing out that they already have endured one the biggest “storms”—graduating from high school in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Stay curious, stay sharp and congratulations, Class of 2024!”