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Senior Sendoff

Traditions for the graduating class create a bridge to the alumni community.

A group of six Northwestern seniors smile at the camera. Each of them is curling one of their hands into a Wildcat “claw.” The student on the far left holds a purple pennant with the words “Go! Northwestern Go! Homecoming and Reunion 2023” on it, followed by the school’s academic N. Two other students on the far right hold a cut-out image of Willie the Wildcat, who is wearing a purple shirt with the academic N on it.
Students at the Senior Welcome Back Brunch in October 2023.Image: Justin Barbin ’11

Spring 2024

Bobby Read ’22 remembers his first Northwestern tradition — the 2018 March Through the Arch. Through this annual rite of passage, new and transfer students pass beneath the Weber Arch to take their symbolic first steps onto the Evanston campus. 

After spending part of his sophomore and junior years learning online during the COVID-19 pandemic, Read couldn’t wait to experience the annual senior class traditions, many of which are organized by the Northwestern Alumni Association (NAA). 

“At Northwestern the school spirit is so strong, and these traditions mean so much to students,” says Read, who hails from Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. Read double majored in social policy in the School of Education and Social Policy and legal studies in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. 

The signature NAA programs help seniors connect with their class and learn how to get involved with the alumni association before and after graduation, all while making memories. 

The festivities begin in the fall with the annual Senior Welcome Back Brunch at Norris University Center. Here, students reconnect with their classmates while learning how to engage with the NAA after graduation through events in their soon-to-be new cities, mentorship programs and more. To help seniors prepare for the transition to postgraduate life, the NAA also shares information about educational offerings throughout the year on topics such as how to rent an apartment and how to manage money. 

Starting in winter quarter, seniors can participate in the Last Lecture. Since 1987, seniors have selected a faculty member to deliver a sendoff talk in late May just before Commencement. All seniors are invited to nominate a favorite professor during the winter quarter and cast their vote during the spring. The professor who receives the most votes dispenses life advice — framed within their area of study — to the class at a local watering hole. 

Last year James Hornsten ’95 MA, ’03 PhD, a professor of instruction in economics, offered several tips to the class of 2023 at Double Clutch Brewing Company in Evanston. “The more you practice this adulting stuff, the easier it gets,” he promised. “Adults are basically big kids. Don’t lose that kid part of you.” He also tied economics topics — such as cost of living, supply and demand, and a monopoly market structure — to the postgraduation experiences of finding a healthy work-life balance, considering where to live and succeeding in the workplace. “Make yourself irreplaceable,” he said. “Make yourself like a little monopoly.” 

Ahead of Commencement, Multicultural Student Affairs holds Campus Inclusion and Community End-of-Year Celebrations to recognize the accomplishments of members of the Black; Latinx; Asian, Pacific Islander, Desi American; and Native American and Indigenous communities. Northwestern’s Gender and Sexuality Resource Center celebrates LGBTQIA+ students at Lavender Graduation. 

At these celebratory events, leaders from the NAA’s affinity groups — including the Northwestern University Asian and Asian American Alumni Association (NU-A5), Northwestern University Black Alumni Association (NUBAA), Latino Alumni of Northwestern University (LANU) and Northwestern University Pride Alumni Club (NUPAC) — welcome graduates to the Northwestern alumni community and invite them to stay connected after graduation. 

For Read, who is now co-president of the NU Club of Cleveland and a member of the Alumni Admission Council, the traditions helped foster a strong desire to get involved with the NAA. And as a recent alum, he has his own piece of advice for graduating seniors: “Make time for these traditions because you will remember them in years to come.” 

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