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News & Press May 2024

Commencement 2024 Features Honorary Degrees to Illinois Governor JB Pritzker and Michelle Sarche, PhD.

Erikson’s 2024 Commencement was held on Monday, May 6, at the historic Goodman Theatre in downtown. This year’s commencement was special for multiple reasons as we celebrated the graduation of the first cohort of our newest degree program, Early Childhood Education with Triple Endorsement, the last cohort of our Early Childhood Education (Teacher Licensure) master’s degree and all graduates from our Social Work, Early Childhood Education (Non-Licensure), Child Development and Doctoral programs.

Honorary Degrees were awarded to Illinois Governor JB Pritzker and renowned clinical psychologist and professor Michelle Sarche, PhD. Lorraine Rua-Figueroa, M.S. ’24 Early Childhood Education with Triple Endorsement, was the student speaker.

Board Chair Eric Adelstein opened the ceremony welcoming the families and friends of the graduates and acknowledging the significance of the stage which was set for the Goodman’s production of August Wilson’s play Joe Turner’s Come and Gone. “If you are wondering why there is a kitchen sink behind us,” he said “it’s because we are standing on the set of “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,” written by August Wilson. “And it’s a prophetic pairing. Wilson wrote plays that chronicle the culture, history and experiences of Black Americans throughout the twentieth century, where, as we all know, they endured racism, trauma and systemic inequities—that continue for communities of color today, and that Erikson strives to change as we pursue our North Star of equity and justice for young children.”

Erikson President Mariana Souto-Manning conferred honorary degrees followed by acceptance speeches from Governor Pritzker and Michelle Sarche.

“You all will be doing some of the most important work in our society. The work of educating and developing our youngest learners at the most vital moments in their lives will determine the progress our whole society will make. I’m not exaggerating that your job is to craft their futures, and also to craft policy and help carry out the work that will determine whether the new and next few generations are put on the right path or not.” Pritzker says “Now that sounds very daunting, I’m sure, and it is. But I am so confident that you can do it right, that I’ve jumped into the soup with you.”

While delivering the keynote address Michelle Sarche, PhD. shared critical insights from the more than 25 years she spent with American Indian and Alaska Native tribes doing research and evaluations related to children’s development in the context of family, community, culture, early care, education, and home visiting programs, and, more broadly, to health and well-being across the lifespan.

Chief Academic Officer and Vice President of Academic Affairs, Pamela Epley, PhD, awarded the inaugural Erikson Founders Alumni Leadership Award to Megan Hillegass, Early Childhood Dual Language Teacher at the Dr. James Mitchen Early Childhood Center in Romeoville. The formation of this award was announced during our 2023 commencement ceremony and honors the legacy of Erikson’s four founders: Barbara Taylor Bowman, Maria Piers, Lorraine Wallach, and Irving B. Harris by acknowledging outstanding Erikson alumni leaders.

Student speaker Lorraine Rua-Figueroa was filled with emotion as she recalled early experiences with her father as a young child. “My father always said, ‘No one can ever take your education from you.’ Education can ground us, change us, and inspire us. That’s why it’s essential for everyone, from early learners to graduate students like us, to have the kind of education where we feel we belong and are celebrated for our differences. Throughout this journey, my instructors and peers made me feel valued for the unique individual I am.” she said. “At Erikson, we are taught to look at the whole child within the context of their culture, community, and their relationships with the people around them. Reflective practice has also given me the gift of understanding myself better. And it has helped me make intentional and purposeful decisions in my work as I engage children in the learning process.”

Commencement 2024 was a joyous occasion and the entire Erikson community looks forward to what our graduates will accomplish. Congratulations to the class of 2024!

Watch a video of the ceremony

View photos from the ceremony

Erikson President Mariana Souto-Manning shaking hands with Governor JB Pritzker

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