Graduation to feature food activist alumnus

Class of 2020 alumni will also have in-person graduation celebration


Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy

FORGING FOOD FAMILIES. Sam Kass, Class of 1998, will speak at the Class of 2022 at graduation June 9. Mr. Kass served as the senior policy adviser for nutrition at the White House under the Obamas and founded Trove, a company that helps implement healthy, sustainable food practices.

Audrey Park, Managing Editor

The commencement speaker and performers for the Class of 2022 graduation ceremony have been decided. Food entrepreneur Sam Kass, a 1998 U-High alumnus, will speak at the ceremony, which begins at 1 p.m. June 9 at Rockefeller Chapel.

The graduation planning committee, composed of Dean of Students Ana Campos and six seniors, began planning in early January. 

Seniors Zach Gin, class president, and Anathea Carrigan will also deliver speeches. Seniors An Ngo, Taig Singh and Eddie Christensen will perform at the ceremony after being  selected through an audition. An will sing, accompanied by Taig on guitar. Eddie will play the violin, accompanied by a music teacher. 

Students can bring up to six guests, but families will have access to spare tickets starting the week of May 30, following the initial ticketing process, which ends May 27.

 An after-graduation reception organized by the Parents’ Association will be from 3-4:30 p.m. in Ida Noyes Hall. 

Alumni members of the Class of 2020 will also celebrate their graduation on June 9 at 5 p.m. following the Class of 2022 ceremony. This informal celebratory event will be their first in-person celebration because their graduation was canceled due to the pandemic. A reception will follow at Ida Noyes Halls at 5:45 p.m. 

It was important that the speaker knows well the experience that the students have just gone through for the past four years.

— Ana Campos

In a message sent to seniors, the 2022 committee selected Mr. Kass to be the speaker because he is a product of and understands the Lab and Hyde Park community. 

After graduating high school, Mr. Kass attended Kansas City Kansas Community College before returning to Hyde Park, where he graduated from the University of Chicago with a degree in U.S. history. Mr. Kass then attended an abroad cooking program in Vienna. 

For many years, Mr. Kass traveled the world, expanding his passion for cooking. He returned to Chicago in 2006 and worked at Avec, a renowned restaurant. He became a personal chef to former President Barack Obama and in 2009 Mr. Kass accompanied the Obamas to the White House, serving as the senior policy adviser for nutrition. Now, he is the founder of Trove, a company that helps corporations implement more healthy and sustainable practices relating to food. 

Mr. Kass said his path was less traditional compared to his classmates.

“Plenty of people, my mom among them, thought I was making a big mistake,” Mr. Kass said in an interview with the Midway. “While my peers were attending prestigious universities, I went down an interesting path, honestly, where I was trying to navigate who I was.”

In his speech to the Class of 2022, he plans to talk about the importance of pursuing what you want to do amid societal and communal pressures.

“I encourage kids, and young people who are working, … on picking a direction they love and to stick with it,” Mr. Kass said. “For me, it was cooking, and looking back I have no regrets.”

Committee member Tona Martinez said Mr. Kass was chosen to speak because his story is inspiring and met the committee’s objective. 

“This year we decided to have that message convey that it’s OK if you know your path is not exactly linear because you will end up where you need to be and where you want to be,” Tona said.

The committee also wanted to have a speaker involved in activism. 

“He has helped with some policies in terms of healthy eating and aided Michelle Obama in her healthy eating plan,” she said. “We wanted to have some side of activism to our speaker.”

Ms. Campos added that Mr. Kass’ experience illustrates that life doesn’t always go as planned.

She said, “It was important that the speaker knows well the experience that the students have just gone through for the past four years.”