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Commencement 2023 Features Valerie Jarrett Keynote Address

Over 500 people attended Erikson’s 2023 Commencement on Tuesday, May 9, at the Joan W. and Irving B. Harris Theater for Music and Dance in Millennium Park. Over 90 of the 102 graduates walked the stage to receive their Master of Science degrees in Early Childhood Education and Child Development and Master of Social Work. Four doctoral candidates received their Ph.D. degrees in Child Development — a record number in one year for Erikson.

Honorary Degrees were awarded to Erikson co-founder and professor Barbara Taylor Bowman and her daughter, the Honorable Valerie Jarrett, long-time advisor to former President Barack Obama and current CEO of the Barack Obama Foundation. Emily Brown, M.S. ‘23 Child Development, was the student speaker.

President Mariana Souto-Manning opened the ceremony welcoming the families and friends of the graduates and acknowledging the students’ accomplishments.

“You are leaving Erikson prepared with the knowledge and leadership skills you will use to build equitable classrooms, support child and family wellness programs, and work with communities to dismantle systemic barriers to quality programs and resources for children and families,” President Souto-Manning said.

Board Chair Elenne Song shared her experience as a child she immigrated from Korea with teachers unprepared to meet her needs. “I wish that my elementary school teachers and administrators had been Erikson graduates. They would have had the professional knowledge that you do to engage and teach a student like me — a little girl who had just arrived from Korea, a military dictatorship at the time, who spoke no English,” Song said.

Jarrett gave a touching speech that highlighted how her mother’s work has influenced her own work and the importance of child development throughout history. She had a stirring message for the graduates.

“The world is a messy place right now, and I know we’re all more than a bit worried about what lies ahead. But you, Erikson graduates, have the opportunity to help shape the future generation of leaders and ordinary citizens at the very beginning of their lives,” she said. “You have the ability to influence lawmakers and public policy experts or become lawmakers and public policy experts because you are now armed with the best practices that will prepare our youngest children for a glide path to successfully reach their full potential. You have chosen a vital and noble profession. And I encourage you each to embrace your own radical acts of change that will make you a mighty force for the greater.”

Bowman described how honored she felt and credited others for her long and successful career as a pioneer in early childhood education.

“It is such a pleasure to receive this honorary degree from Erikson, but although it is in my name, I did not earn this alone. My work has been facilitated by numerous individuals and institutions who have made it possible,” Bowman said. She went on to acknowledge her fellow co-founders and all who have supported Erikson’s evolution, including trustees, funders, government entities, other nonprofits, faculty, alumni, and students.

Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty Dr. Pamela Epley announced the creation of the Founders’ Award, which will honor the legacy of Erikson’s four founders: Barbara Taylor Bowman, Maria Piers, Lorraine Wallach, and Irving B. Harris by acknowledging outstanding Erikson alumni leaders. The first Founders’ Award will be presented at Erikson’s 2024 Commencement ceremony.

Student speaker Emily Brown shared their experience as a child who had struggled with reading and was pulled out of their regular classes for tutoring. They contrasted the self-doubt they had then with the confidence they have now. “Graduate school is hard, even without life’s many stressors. We all pushed ourselves to limits we might have once thought we couldn’t reach. I am here today to tell my 10-year-old self, and every child out there who has been taught they are inadequate, that you are smart, capable, and you can do anything you put your mind to. You are enough and you belong.”

Commencement 2023 was heartwarming and memorable. The entire Erikson community looks forward to what our graduates will accomplish. President Souto-Manning captured this in her words to the students, “As a member of the Erikson family, we are excited about the progress you will make in your communities. We can’t wait to see how you will live the Erikson mission every day—embracing our humanity and interconnectedness, and our shared responsibility for making equity, inclusion, belonging and justice a reality in our society.”

Watch a video of the ceremony

Left to Right: Valerie Jarrett, Barbara Taylor Bowman, and Mariana Souto-Manning

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