Deep in thought during the 2013 Aims of Education address. (Photography by Joel Wintermantle)

Autumn rites

Official or unofficial, solemn or frivolous, shared experiences bind us to the University.

In this issue, several alumni write about rites of passage. One essay, by Lisa K. Harris, AB’82, MBA’84, describes a mother’s mixed feelings on bringing her daughter to begin a life in the College four Septembers ago. Another, by Susie Allen, AB’09, documents a less formal rite: the discovery and cultivation of an identity-forging campus hangout. Because this is the University of Chicago, Allen’s adopted spot was, naturally, in the Reg—but read her piece to be reminded of how many different things that can mean.

Depending on which part of the University you attended and when, your rites may vary: official or unofficial, solemn or frivolous. Pritzker students have their white coat ceremony, the Law School its musical. As a first-year graduate student in English, I got dressed up in February for a departmental semiformal in Ida Noyes. It sounds strange, and the Snowball, though loved, didn’t survive the ’90s (maybe not even the mid-’90s). Sometimes it’s the least lofty, most evanescent rites that bind us to a place.

But sometimes not, if alumni memories of the august Aims of Education address, delivered to first-year College students each Orientation Week, are any indication. In the last issue, alumni award recipient Bret Stephens, AB’95, recalled his year’s address (Glimpses, July–Aug/14) and how it gave him a crucial sense of belonging to UChicago from almost the moment he set foot on campus.

In this issue, “In Search of Words Lost” by Wayne Scott, AB’86, AM’89, reflects on the Aims of 1982, when Scott was a nervous first-year. It’s striking to find him attaching the same sentiment to the occasion as Stephens, in some of the same words—and here too with unmistakable emotion.

The Aims of Education address suggests what it means to be part of a larger tribe. In the 52nd Aims on September 23, former University president Hugo Sonnenschein will, like those before him, speak to students’ minds in examining what it means to be truly educated. But for many in the audience, if Stephens’s and Scott’s experiences are representative, the evening will be food for feeling as well as thought, and the beginning of a lasting attachment.

Which UChicago rites were meaningful to you? Tell us at

Fond Farewell

This month the Magazine says good-bye to alumni news editor Katherine Muhlenkamp, who is expecting a baby girl later this fall. Kate, who joined the Alumni Relations and Development Communications staff in 2007, has been the able editor of the Peer Review section since October 2012 and a contributor of stories including this issue’s Legacy. She will be greatly missed.