Graduates past and present celebrated at Spring 2022 convocation ceremony


Claire Benjamin

Paul J. A. Kenis presents diploma covers to the graduates. 
Paul J. A. Kenis presents diploma covers to the graduates. 

The Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign celebrated 160 graduates, including 21 graduates from 2019 to 2021, on May 15, 2022, at the Tryon Festival Theatre in the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts with remarks from alumnus Kenneth Jaconetty (BS ’82), an Intellectual Property attorney.  

Department head Paul Kenis, the Elio Eliakim Tarika Endowed Chair, welcomed graduates to a packed auditorium. "I welcome you, parents, family, and friends—everyone who is here to celebrate our esteemed graduates—it is a special pleasure to welcome you to our first in-person May Convocation in three years.”

“For many of you, it has been a long road to get to this day. You may have changed schools or majors; garnered certificates, minors, and double majors; conducted independent research; pursued co-operative and internship opportunities; and juggled student organization responsibilities,” Kenis said. “And all of these things you did in the midst of a global pandemic that is unlike anything your predecessors have faced. Despite this major unforeseen circumstance, and all the affiliated setbacks, you have arrived here today.”

Venetria K. Patton, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences
Venetria K. Patton, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences

College of Liberal Arts & Sciences Dean Venetria K. Patton lauded the graduates for their accomplishments and impact at UIUC. “Since arriving here, you have trained with the best of the best in chemical and biomolecular engineering and succeeded in one of the most rigorous academic programs on this campus. You have worked hard and should be immensely proud of yourself for what you have accomplished.” 

“You should also know that each and every one of you made a difference here. Your presence and participation enhanced our campus,” she said. “Your questions and perspectives helped others learn, your involvement made this a better place. We’re grateful for all of the many contributions you made during your time at Illinois.”

Dean Patton also recognized the graduates’ invaluable support system. “We know these graduates could not have done it without you. Whether you gave pep talks, were a shoulder to lean on, sent money for food, helped with laundry, paid tuition, or all of the above, your support made a difference.”

Kenneth Jaconetty (BS ’82) delivers remarks at the convocation ceremony.
Kenneth Jaconetty (BS ’82) delivers remarks at the convocation ceremony.

Next, Jaconetty took the podium to remind graduates that, as daunting as the future may feel, it will indeed “all work out.” 

Jaconetty graduated in the midst of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Job prospects were few, but his tenacity resulted in a position—sight unseen—with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. 

“This job wasn’t my first-choice post-graduation; in fact, it was my only choice,” he said. “But from there, all sorts of new doors opened for me. I began law school in the evening program at George Washington University, and then, while studying there, left the USPTO to work for a law firm in D.C.  A law firm that paid my law school tuition (not an insignificant sum) and allowed me to work with two brilliant and kind partners, who became my mentors.” 

Upon graduating from law school, he picked the “least conventional” job offer at a pharmaceutical company based in Basel, Switzerland. “I’ll spare you the details after that fateful flight, but will say that it all worked out,” he said. “At the same time, I’ll say, had I taken another, more conventional, job I’m convinced it, too, all would have worked out.” 

This sentiment inspired his niece when the time came to choose her own career path. 

"My niece tells me that while weighing her decision, she pondered the career path that I have taken,” Jaconetty said. “She saw that my first job did not need to be my last job. She saw that each job opened doors to the next. She saw that I seized the opportunity to travel some of the world when a job offered it.  And while to some, my path may seem a bit meandering, my niece saw that it helped shape me into who I am today.

Jaconetty reminded graduates that their exceptional education can take them down many roads, and it’s up to them to follow their guts to find the right fit for them.  

“Once you decide what you’re going to do, go out and give it your best shot, and maybe, just maybe, you’ve found your calling right out of the gate,” he said. “Or maybe you find it’s not a good fit, and you’re not where you want to be, and so you re-group and you pivot to something else that puts a smile on your face and has meaning for you and is something this world is in need of.”

Congratulations to the graduates! 
Congratulations to the graduates! 

Today's graduates join more than 5,000 departmental alumni who have graduated from chemical engineering since 1901. 

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