Early in the morning, while faculty was still eating breakfast, Chuatong Thao, OD ’17, was alone outside. He was gathering his thoughts before crowds arrived. “Going through the same things at the same time, everyone understands each other at a deeper level,” he said about his classmates. As for faculty, Dr. Thao particularly complimented Dr. Elizabeth Wyles. “The amount of effort that she puts into her students to make sure every one of them is doing their best is amazing.” Dr. Thao is best known by his classmates as a poet. He has read original poetry on-stage at several MCA Night talent shows. When asked for some final words for the Class of 2017, he said this: “Remember the good times. Continue to be great. Don’t forget where you came from.”
Once the rain started, students and their loved ones huddled in the Rockefeller Chapel foyer. Stephanie Corbin, OD ’17, Emily Hutchins, OD ’17, and Amanda Thurmes, OD ’17, spent some time together before lining up. “I’m actually really looking forward to the bagpipes,” one of them laughed. “Is that weird?” The three women said they would miss living in Chicago, “doing fun things with your friends whenever you want.” Though the trio was excited and nervous, they felt confident in their class becoming doctors. Said Dr. Hutchins to her fellow grads, “Just go out there and give your full hearts to what you are doing.”
Commencement began with the traditional procession. As the students entered, Beth Karmis, Senior Director of Student Development, looked on. This was her 23rd Commencement. “This group of students really touched me,” she said. “They were natural leaders. They looked out for each other. I’m going to miss this class.”Chief Marshal Dr. Gary Gunderson led faculty to the front of the chapel. Long ago, he played a special part in starting ICO Commencement traditions. Dr. Gunderson’s family was the first to rent out Ida Noyes Hall for the post-ceremony reception. This year, on behalf of the faculty, he presented each graduate with a 2017 Kennedy half dollar to remember the special day.
The 2017 Commencement Speaker was Richard Lui. Mr. Lui is a celebrated journalist and anchor for MSNBC and NBC News. He has 30 years of experience in network television, technology, and business. ICO awarded him an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters before his address.
Mr. Lui’s speech was entertaining, taking friendly jabs at post-grad life, such as the pressure to get married and settle down. A caregiver for his own father, Mr. Lui emphasized the importance of caregiving in the modern world. He cited good-hearted ICO alumni he knew of, including the founders of the Answers for Emmett charity. He encouraged the Class of 2017 to be just as strong and kind as those who had come before them.
ICO president Dr. Arol Augsburger highlighted the significance of graduating from our program. “Your ICO education means that you are best prepared to practice optometry with confidence; that you are backed by the largest network of alumni, faculty, and staff anywhere; and, that you have a solid foundation from which you will decide how to build your future.”
All told, the degree of Doctor of Optometry was conferred upon 155 students. This group had three Valedictorians and earned $200,000 in scholarships and awards. 26% of the class is moving on to Residency. The rest will spread across optometry’s many modes of practice, in locations across our nation and world. As we send them off, we hope they will continue to associate with ICO and its alumni. Our institution is a family, and as Dr. Mark Colip said to the graduates, “Like family, we will always welcome you back.”
ICO’s 174th Commencement was our last in Rockefeller Chapel. We are delighted to begin a new chapter with new traditions in 2018. To see the location of next year’s event, view the reveal video.