A group of Case Western Reserve University students walk a sidewalk while administrators clap and cheer
Photos by Dan Milner.

Convocation 2023: DiSanto Field, Clap Out and wisdom from ‘Nana’

Case Western Reserve’s first Commencement Week kicks off with familiar pomp, plus fun new features

Case Western Reserve kicked off its first Commencement Week Wednesday with the Class of 2023’s undergraduates going back to where they began: DiSanto Field.

For decades, undergraduate orientation has featured a nighttime gathering on that turf, where CWRU’s entering students form the university’s acronym for their “class photo.”

Yesterday, soon-to-be graduates gathered once again for the camera, then made their way to the Case Quad for another new Commencement Week feature: the “Clap Out.”

Led by a procession of university leaders and honorees, graduating students from all schools and degree levels were welcomed with applause as they made their way to the Veale Convocation, Recreation and Athletic Center.

Once inside, the graduates heard congratulations from President Eric W. Kaler—and additional good news.

“If you hadn’t heard, our men’s tennis team just made history as the first Spartan athletic team to win an NCAA Division III championship!” he announced, prompting whoops and applause. “That’s very exciting for them—and for the university.”

Coincidentally, the next speaker was himself a record-setting athlete. Double alumnus Fred DiSanto—today the chair of the university’s Board of Trustees—to this day remains the only student-athlete to earn four varsity letters each in three different sports.

“I hope that your experience here—including the times that were challenging—enables you to move forward with confidence, compassion and a curiosity about the world and its people,” DiSanto said.

This year’s commencement speaker was Michael Osterholm, a renowned infectious disease expert who emerged during the pandemic as one of the most informed and influential advocates of applying science.

Rather than focus on lessons from research, however, he instead shared wisdom from Nana, a woman in his small farming hometown in Iowa who, while “not biologically related to me… did become the mother of my soul.”

He explained that through hundreds of hours of conversations, and comparable numbers of typewritten letters, she showed him “the gift and power of unconditional love.”

She also conveyed to him the critical importance of establishing a legacy, and reminded the graduates that “education is a major step in defining that personal legacy.”

Later in the program, Alumni Association President Srinivas Rao reminded graduates of all they’d overcome.

“Motivated by talented classmates from all walks of life, you did more than survive tough winters and being stretched beyond your comfort zone by the best professors in their fields,” Rao said, “you thrived in one of the most unprecedented and uncertain times in our history.”

Also speaking Wednesday were Graduate Student Council President Razaq Durodoye and Undergraduate Student Government President Ananya Hari.

Durodoye reminded his peers of the learning opportunities they provided one another—namely, by coming from around the country and even the world to become part of this campus community.

“Exposure to others, their lived experiences and cultural humility reveals new perspectives while helping us appreciate our own identities,” he explained. “Our time here prepared us for a world that is growing increasingly diverse and stronger for it.”

Hari, meanwhile, complimented her classmates on accomplishments earned through “dedication, perseverance, countless hours of hard work, and 2 a.m. trips to the Den”—while also noting the irony that in some ways, graduation marks a moment of starting all over again.

“Let us pursue our dreams with the same tenacity that brought us to this day of celebration,” she advised. “This is your life, and you have the power to shape it into something extraordinary.”

Kaler also recognized the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Foundation with the President’s Award for Visionary Achievement, calling it one of Case Western Reserve’s “most transformative and generous supporters.” Mandel Foundation board chair Steven Hoffman accepted the honor on behalf of the organization.

In addition, the president also awarded an honorary degree to medical school alumnus Bruce Walker for “exceptional and transformative work in AIDS research and healthcare.” Also honored was alumnus and former university board chair James C. Wyant, who was unable to participate the ceremony in person but watched via livestream. Kaler said the honorary degree in engineering recognized Wyant’s “many accomplishments in optical science and for your dedication to students as an educator and for your commitment to advancing the field of optical science in business, academia and society.”

Finally, he recognized the 2022 and 2023 recipients of the Frank and Dorothy Humel Hovorka Prize—respectively, Jenifer Neils and Sandra Russ. This honor is given annually to a faculty member whose “exceptional achievements in teaching, research and scholarly service have benefited the community, the nation and the world.”

For details on Commencement Week at Case Western Reserve University, visit the commencement website.