ChBE holds virtual convocation celebrating May 2021 graduates


Alma Mater dressed in graduation regalia.
Alma Mater dressed in graduation regalia.

The Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign held a virtual convocation ceremony at 1 p.m. Central Time on May 15, 2021, to celebrate nearly 120 bachelor’s and doctoral graduates via Zoom with remarks from the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences Associate Dean Matthew Ando and ChBE alumnus Alex Vogel, former Global Director of Process Research & Development for Dow AgroSciences.

Dean Ando presented the opening remarks by thanking the department for inviting him to present remarks “in person.” He said that in years past, he had the pleasure of attending multiple commencement ceremonies to watch hundreds of students receive their degrees across the College of LAS. 

“I didn’t stop to realize how much I would miss all those events and how much the recorded remarks are a step even further away from the human contact that we all miss, so thanks to Paul Kenis for inviting me to join,” Ando said.

He thanked the faculty for the “care and attention that you give to your students” before acknowledging the momentous, and hard-won, end to their education at UIUC. 

“To borrow from Lincoln, a result both fundamental and astounding, I’m profoundly impressed and grateful to all of you for navigating it as you did,” he said. “Especially if you struggled, and especially if you feel that you didn’t handle it well, believe me, you are not alone. But also standing here, and looking back at the way we were, and the way we did in 2019, what have we learned?”

His takeaway: the time that we get to spend with each other is truly precious.

“You’re engineers, and you’ve learned how to design solutions to problems,” he said. “As you go forward, and design the post pandemic world, design it so that you stay in touch with each other and stay in touch with us, thank you.”

Next, the graduates heard from the convocation keynote speaker, Vogel. 

“I’d like to share two experiences that had a positive and lasting influence on me throughout my career, perhaps the lessons will be useful to you as well, regardless of what direction you’re may take next,” Vogel said. 

He shared “The Case of the Giant Flask and the Lost Platinum” and “The Case of the Weekend Process Design.” 

After the first story, Vogel said: “What are the lessons from this experience? Well, first of all, I would say that we did an out of the box solution. Always consider an out-of-the-box solution, because you might come up with something much better than just the incremental solution.”

For the second story, he said the biggest takeaway is that “over-the-top motivation” can win the day.

He told the graduates that the key to a successful career is to love your job—money is necessary, but not sufficient, for you to love your job. Motivation is what makes the difference, he added.

“I’m talking about motivation to make an impact, something that gets you out of bed in the morning to make a difference, to be excited about discovering something new or solving an important problem,” he said. 

Vogel ended his remarks with the Jewish word “nachas” that describes pride, joy and reward. 

“My years at the University of Illinois’ Chemical Engineering Department brought me nachas, and most significantly, I was fortunate to have plenty of it in my career as well,” he said. “And my wish to all the graduates, is that you will enjoy a good helping of nachas in your careers as well, congratulations and good luck.”

After the graduates were presented by assistant professors Simon Rogers and Xiao Su, ChBE Department Head Paul Kenis, the Elio Eliakim Tarika Endowed Chair in Chemical Engineering, invited the graduates to move their tassels from right to left. 

“We hope that we have provided you with the education that will help you succeed, and we wish you the best of luck in your professional and personal lives,” Kenis said in his closing remarks. “In years to come, we hope to see many of you back on campus to share your achievements with us, just as Alex Vogel did today.”

Today’s graduates join more than 5,000 departmental alumni who have graduated since 1901. 

The ceremony was recorded and is available for download.