Dancin' in the Rain at Stormy Commencement

Video: Wynton Maraslis' Commencement Address — Graduates and guests enjoyed an abbreviated ceremony highlighted by internationally renowned musician Wynton Marsalis. See Class of 2009 Bids Farewell to Northwestern and more videos from Northwestern magazine.

The class of 2009 left Northwestern under a cloud — literally.

The University held its 151st Commencement in abbreviated fashion June 19, rushing through the ceremony in time to escape an approaching thunderstorm.

"I thought I made a gutsy call at 11:30 to be outside this evening," Northwestern President Henry S. Bienen (H09) said of his midday decision to hold the ceremony at Ryan Field. "Well, we'll see."

After violent storms battered the Chicago area throughout the morning, the evening rain held off just long enough. Despite the dark clouds, the graduates and their families celebrated the music and message of Wynton Marsalis (H09), who trimmed his 16-minute speech to just two pages — the first and the last.

"That's the first thing I'm going to tell you tonight, 'Always be appropriate to the situation,' " Marsalis said. He told the grads to "tend to your dream and sing your song" and encouraged them to "soak up this moment, even if it's raining. A little rain never hurt nobody. Look around. Feel it.

"This evening, graduates, you fulfill the promise of this University's legacy, justify the optimism of your ancestors, reward the investment of your parents, deepen a kinship with your peers and provide inspiration for younger generations who will benefit from your example."

After his remarks Marsalis picked up his trumpet and played "The Second Line," a traditional New Orleans tune, with saxophonist Victor Goines, Northwestern's director of jazz studies. The students danced in the aisles, clapping and waving their caps.

Marsalis, who received a doctor of arts degree, was one of seven honorary degree recipients. Bienen and Board of Trustees chair Patrick G. Ryan (EB59, H09), both of whom stepped down from their positions after 14 years, received doctor of humane letters degrees.

Four others received honorary doctor of science degrees:

The University also honored 28 faculty members with emeritus status.