Class of 2018 graduates ‘Erikson prepared’ for the future

At our annual commencement ceremony, speakers highlighted how the Erikson experience transforms students with a passion for serving children into leaders ready to put their years of preparation into action.

With master’s degrees in social work, child development, and early childhood education — and one doctorate in child development — 75 new Erikson Institute graduates are now prepared to lead in their chosen fields.

Erikson’s 2018 commencement ceremony ceremony, held at the Field Museum in the James Simpson Theatre, allowed graduates to reflect on their transformative journey from students to knowledgeable professionals ready to influence the lives of children and families for years to come.

“You are a different person today because you came to Erikson,” said Geoffrey A. Nagle, PhD, Erikson’s president and chief executive officer. “You are a leader — someone who is prepared not just to serve children and families, but also to shape the early childhood field. You are stewards of Erikson’s mission to improve the well-being of all children and families.”

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As graduates walked across the stage, faculty members read short biographies, highlighting the graduates’ professional areas of interest, future plans, and unique personal stories. Their remarks touched on both the rigor of being an Erikson student and the rewards of being an alumnus. Each graduate received a yellow rose, an Erikson tradition that dates back to the earliest commencement ceremonies held in the backyard garden at the home of Barbara Bowman, who helped found Erikson in 1966.

Erikson also conferred two honorary degrees to leaders whose work has created new knowledge in the field and led to lasting change in the community:

  • Toby Herr, an Erikson life trustee, alumna, and longtime supporter, founded Project Match, an influential research initiative that helped establish numerous anti-poverty and workforce development programs in Chicago.
  • Gloria Ladson-Billings, PhD, Kellner Family Distinguished Professor in Urban Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has had a long career as an education leader whose work on culturally relevant pedagogy has been influential throughout the field, helping teachers understand the important role culture plays in learning.

In her commencement address, Dr. Ladson-Billings spoke about her belief in the ability of youths to shape the future of the country, drawing inspiration from current events like the “March for Our Lives” gun law reform movement catalyzed by the school shooting in Parkland, Florida earlier this year.

Dr. Ladson-Billings also addressed the need for adults to support the work of young people by doing three things: Acknowledging that talent exists in children, listening to children and youths, and giving children space to use what they have learned.

“Instead of looking to middle-aged and senior citizens to lead us into the future, we must remember that the U.S. has always been a youth focused culture,” she said. “As much as we celebrate the accomplishments of these graduates today, we are obliged to turn to our children and youth for direction to bring about positive social change. That means that people whose career investment is in children and youth have a special responsibility for identifying, cultivating, and supporting the work of our young people.”

The theme of social change in Dr. Ladson-Billings’ address echoed throughout the ceremony, as speakers touched on current events, such as strained budgets, new immigration policies, and community violence, that have the potential to impact children and families. John L. Hines Jr., chair of Erikson’s board of trustees, urged graduates to “be bold and active as citizens,” while Dr. Nagle stressed the importance of the work graduates are now prepared to do.

“Today, your knowledge and skills are needed more than ever,” Dr. Nagle said. “Across our nation, many events continue to put children at risk. These challenges are complex and not easily solved. But that is where you come in. You have the power to bring about change. You will shape the future of this country because you know that a child’s experiences, especially those in their early years, last their entire lifetime.

“That is a tremendous responsibility, but I can’t think of a better group to rise to the challenge than Erikson graduates.”