Congratulations to the class of 2017

May 22, 2017 — Walking across the commencement stage, 390 Grinnellian students from the class of 2017 became alumni on Monday, May 22. This year’s commencement speaker was Kumail Nanjiani ’01, an actor, writer, stand-up comedian, and podcast host best known for his role on HBO’s Silicon Valley.

Nanjiani offered the graduates advice on how to confront the “gaping maw of uncertainty” that he imagined the students were experiencing just as he did when he graduated from Grinnell. “Nobody is paying attention to your failures. Failure is boring. Your failure will not be so spectacular that people will write articles about it,” he said. Nanjiani encouraged the graduates to seek out people, thoughts, and opinions different than their own and to “engage, care, and be passionate because each other is all we have.”

Graduates at the 2017 Grinnell College Commencement

He remembers Grinnell as “the second place in my life that felt like home.” It was a community, he says, that welcomed and engaged with him. Nanjiani closed his address by telling the graduates,” Welcome to the real world. We need you out here.”

In addition to delivering the commencement address, Nanjiani received an honorary doctorate in humane letters. The College recognized three other individuals who were also awarded honorary doctorates:

  • Emily Pfitsch, for her 70 years of service to the college and the joy she brings to that role
  • Barb Van Ersvelde, a teacher at Davis Elementary School in Grinnell, for her work with students and the Lunchtime Language Learners program
  • Daniel Werner ’91, for his work as a lawyer protecting immigrants’ civil rights and calling powerful organizations to account when they mistreat vulnerable workers

President Raynard S. Kington acknowledged all that has gone into the graduates’ four years of education at Grinnell. “We, your Grinnell College professors, mentors, staffers, and leaders, have done our very best to give you everything we know, to teach you and inspire you to the very best of our abilities,” he said. “In the true liberal arts tradition, we’ve taught you critical thinking skills, research methods, and creative practices that will serve you well no matter where your career path takes you.”

The president closed the ceremony by reminding the graduates of the alumni community they were joining. “Because of their open minds, their generous hearts, and their willingness to endure the imperfect systems while striving towards perfection, [Grinnell alumni] have shaped the world in remarkable ways, as I know you will.”