It’s traditional at the University of Chicago to invite a faculty member to deliver the convocation speech, rather than invite an outside speaker as many schools do. This year’s chosen faculty for Spring Convocation (the first campus-wide ceremony since 1929) was a well-known name from the rolls of the Biological Sciences Division: Paul Sereno, our world-famous fossil hunter. Despite being the year after the Year of Darwin, Sereno still did an excellent job of weaving the father of evolution and the theory itself into his advice for the graduating Class of 2010.
In evolutionary biology, random events with unpredictable consequences are collectively known as “historical contingency.” That randomness can be just as significant to an individual’s personal “evolution”: just as Darwin diverted from the seminary to his famous trip aboard the HMS Beagle, Sereno switched from art school to a career in paleontology. As such, Sereno advised the graduates to keep a firm hold on their liberal arts education, never knowing when it will be useful for the unforeseeable twists and turns in one’s life and career.
“I recount these life stories to extol the virtues of pathways marked by unpredictable, life-changing events small and large,” Sereno said. “Contingency is to be embraced, not feared.”
Below, watch the full video of Sereno’s convocation speech. As a side attraction, admire the amazing transformation of the University of Chicago main quad into a temporary outdoor auditorium able to hold 20,000 attendees.