Northwestern’s 159th Commencement ceremony will be held on June 16, 2017, at Ryan Field in Evanston, Illinois. This annual graduation celebration will honor the graduating class of 2017, recognizing the hard work they have dedicated to their education during their time at Northwestern.
As part of the Commencement ceremony, three students from the class of 2017 were chosen for important speaking roles this year. Carl Alexander, Rocio Mendez-Rozo, and Jacob Rosenblum will all have the opportunity to perform or speak in front of their graduating class in their roles as National Anthem singer, Commencement Welcome speaker, and the Introductory speaker for Billie Jean King, respectively.
Carl Alexander, (Master of Music in Voice and Opera, Bienen School of Music):
Carl Alexander’s unique vocal style and range mean that opportunities in the opera field have been harder to come by during his music career. Being chosen as the National Anthem singer for Commencement was a surprise, Alexander said, “but it’s a chance to show the love I have for this school. My two years here have gone by really fast.”
Alexander completed his undergraduate degree at Moorehouse College, and coming into Northwestern was a unique transition for him. “There weren’t many people that looked like me, especially in the school of music where there were less than ten percent African American students.” After having more experiences at Northwestern, however, Alexander said, “it’s a space to embrace who I am and be really proud of that.”
At 23, Alexander is the youngest person in his Masters class to graduate. He has been involved in a student-led Chamber Opera Initiative, Pick-Staiger marketing, and his own personal fashion photography. Reflecting on his time at Northwestern, Alexander commented. “[Northwestern] has opened up a world of knowledge and resources I never knew existed.
Alexander is performing as the National Anthem singer at the Taste of Chicago on July 9, and after this summer, he will further pursue his music in Narni, Italy through a series of concert works. “After that, the sky’s the limit. I don’t know what’s coming, but I look forward to the opportunities I’ll have to do new music,” Alexander said.
Rocio Mendez-Rozo, (Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and Latinx Studies, Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences):
Being selected as the Commencement Welcome speaker feels like an incredibly full circle experience for Rocio Mendez-Rozo. “I really struggled my freshman year...I felt like I was under so much pressure to find a label of success for myself, but to experience the four years that has been Northwestern up to this point, I feel so honored and humbled to have been selected.”
Managing the stresses of changing majors and finding a place at Northwestern hasn’t always been the easiest for Mendez-Rozo, but she feels thankful to have the opportunity to express her experiences to the class of 2017.
“All of us carry our stories of resilience,” Mendez-Rozo said, “and I feel really humbled to bring that part of myself to the stage and acknowledge that everyone on one level or another has that story of what it looks like to push through and feel like you are barely making it, and then to have those really amazing moments of community building and feeling like you really belong here.”
During her time at Northwestern, Mendez-Rozo has been a member of Mariachi Northwestern as well as heavily involved with Wildcat Welcome as a Peer Advisor and a member of the Board of Directors. Mendez-Rozo remembers, “I’ve learned a lot from my peers, [they] have been some of the most influential people in my life and the drive that I see so many of my peers take into their everyday life is probably what I’m going to take with me after this experience.”
Following graduation, Mendez-Rozo will be researching with a Northwestern professor over the summer before taking a gap year and working on applications to Phd programs in English Literature. Her long-term goal is to become a professor of English Literature.
Jacob Rosenblum, (Bachelor of Science in Social Policy and Statistic, School of Education and Social Policy):
Jacob Rosenblum looks up to Billie Jean King for more reasons than one. As a successful tennis player, but also as a gay rights and women’s activist, Billie Jean King has been an inspiration both for Jacob and many of his friends. “Being a gay man,” Rosenblum said, “people like Billie Jean King, the activism that she did, is what shaped the way my life is now.”
“Learning from her on how to move forward in a time where marginalized communities are being more attacked than ever - I can think of no better commencement speaker than Billie Jean King.”
Passionate about student activism and Chicago, Rosenblum has spent much of his time at Northwestern studying issues of homelessness and poverty in Chicago. His experiences at Northwestern have helped to shape these pursuits, and he attributes much of his learning to student activists on campus. “I think that both student activists and SESP classes have really taught me a lot about how to recognize my own identity and the way that interacts with the work I’m doing.”
In reflecting on his time at Northwestern, Rosenblum said, “I feel like my entire Northwestern experience was a study of Chicago, which I loved.” From engagement opportunities through SESP, the Freshman Urban Program (FUP), and many other resources, Rosenblum has appreciated the experiences that Northwestern’s access to Chicago have offered him. Following this summer, Rosenblum will pursue his interests in activism and research at the University of Chicago Poverty Lab as a project associate.