White House chief of staff speaks to UI grads

University graduates have been anxiously awaiting graduation day since they enrolled. This weekend, they finally got the chance to experience getting their diploma.

Before the ceremony, students said they were in disbelief at actually being done with school.

Jaimie Barta, a graduating senior from the College of ACES, said the moment was surreal.

“Graduation still feels a little creepy. I feel like it still should not be happening,” Barta said.

Christopher Kennedy, University Board of Trustees chairman, opened the ceremony by recognizing the efforts of University President Michael Hogan.

“We are lucky to have him and every trustee here appreciates all that he has done in such a short period of time,” Kennedy said.

He also expressed gratitude for his fellow trustees, Chancellor Robert Easter and the faculty and staff for remaining loyal to the University despite economic troubles.

“For three years, they have had no raises, they’ve been burdened by furloughs and they’ve had their lives disrupted by the constant threat of underfunding by the state,” he said.

He thanked the graduating students for choosing the University as their alma mater, and thanked their families for the support they gave their children.

“Thank you for choosing U of I. No place in Illinois provides a greater example of the notion of this state as a meritocracy,” Kennedy said. “(It is) the notion that what you do is more important than where you came from.”

Following Kennedy’s speech, Hogan acknowledged Easter’s commitment to the University and congratulated the class of 2011.

He said that they have a promising road ahead of them, pointing to fellow University graduates that have made great impacts on the world.

“Our graduates have had their hand in new technologies, such as plasma screens … and have helped create companies that are engraved in our daily life, including YouTube and PayPal,” Hogan said.

“Tomorrow, you become the alumni whose career achievements will someday inspire new generations of graduates and add to the University’s experts,” he said.

William M. Daley, the White House chief of staff, was the speaker at the 140th University Commencement. Daley, who took his post in January, encouraged University graduates to succeed through being connected with the world through various social media outlets, such as Facebook.

As the ceremony came to a close, graduates of each college stood up one college at a time as their families and friends cheered to honor their efforts over the past four years.

Victoria Winner, a graduate from the College of Engineering, said she felt that all four years of studying have paid off.

“It feels really amazing (to graduate). There has been a lot of work put into (studying), and I am glad to be finally done,” Winner said.