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A Graduate Reflects: 'I'm Ready!'

June 24, 2009

Caps and GownsPicking up the cap and gown.
Photo by Stephen Anzaldi

Honors DayAt the Honors Day ceremony.
Photo by Stephen Anzaldi

KleinerReading at the Baccalaureate Mass.
Photo by Matt Paolelli

KleinerSafe from the rain at Ryan Field.
Photo by Andrew Campbell

I’m looking forward to graduation, and not just because I’m excited to wear a shapeless purple robe and funny hat along with hundreds of my peers on Ryan Field. To me, the graduation festivities recognize more than just that my classmates and I have passed a certain number of courses, fulfilled our distribution requirements and earned our diplomas. Graduation weekend celebrates how, through the process of earning our degrees, we have grown and changed.

The people I’ve met at Northwestern have contributed in many ways to my growth over the past four years. First, my Northwestern classmates represent a myriad of backgrounds and systems of belief, in contrast to my public high school, which was primarily white, upper-middle class and Christian. My life has been immeasurably enriched by the diversity of the student body at Northwestern. Just a few weeks ago, for example, one of my good friends invited me to join her for weekly Shabbat dinner at a rabbi’s house. And she attended a mass at the Sheil Catholic Center with me. While neither of us is rushing to convert to the other’s religion, our conversations following these experiences proved to be fruitful in producing new levels of understanding and respect. Through the dialogue I’ve had with people whose perspectives and backgrounds differ from mine, I’ve been challenged to re-examine my own beliefs and, as a result, I’ve come away with a stronger sense of my own identity.

I also have been profoundly moved by my peers' talent, commitment and innovation, particularly in theatre. Many of my favorite undergraduate memories are simply the performances my peers have given in class. In my sophomore acting class I watched a classmate perform a monologue from Romeo and Juliet. The memory is still vivid today. Romeo and Juliet is so familiar that it's difficult to deliver its lines without seeming hackneyed. And yet the honesty and fullness with which my classmate embodied her character made her performance fresh and emotionally resonant.

Other favorite memories from my undergraduate experience are working on group projects. A group project once sent some classmates and me on a midnight El ride. Another time we hit the street to interview pedestrians. Group assignments were opportunities for great fun. But more importantly, they taught me a lot about collaboration. I had an amazing experience in my documentary theatre class when I worked with five other students over the course of several weeks to create the 20-minute piece we would perform as our final project. It was not one of those projects where each student says, “I’m doing my 1/6 of the work and that’s it.” Rather, throughout the process of formulating and staging our script we truly came together, listening to each others’ suggestions, experimenting with different ideas, adjusting something when it did not work and working together to build something strong. We achieved a great group dynamic and, because of experiences like this, I better understand how to achieve this cohesive dynamic when working with others. I'm confident this will be an invaluable lesson I carry with me.

I also think of graduation as a celebration of the possibilities for future growth -- on academic, professional and personal levels -- made possible by what we, the graduates, have learned during our time at Northwestern. I’m eager to begin my law education at the University of Michigan in the fall. I’m also confident that law is the right path for me -- not just because of the particular courses I’ve taken as an undergrad, or the law-related D.C. internship Career Services helped me land -- but also from the opportunities for personal reflection that I’ve had throughout my time at Northwestern. For me, graduation celebrates both where I’m going and how Northwestern helped me get there.

Just because I’m looking forward to graduation does not mean that I do not feel a twinge of melancholy at leaving Northwestern. I will certainly miss many things I’ve enjoyed while here -- walks by the lake, the colorful leaves on the trees of South Campus in autumn, the clock tower illuminated in purple after a football victory. And though in the years to come I will not see all of the amazing people that I’ve met here as often as I have during these past four years, ultimately the people I’ve met will still be with me after I leave Northwestern in the ways that they have inspired, challenged and changed me.

So bring on the pomp, circumstance and parade of purple caps and gowns. I’m ready!

Julie Milligan
Class of 2009
School of Communication
Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences

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Topics: People