“Bona Fides — Your Good Faith”


Chancellor Mnookin's remarks to graduates at the Spring 2024 Doctoral, MFA and Professional Degree Commencement

University of Wisconsin –Madison

May 10, 2024


Thank you, Provost Isbell, and good evening, everyone!

I am tremendously happy to welcome you all to the 171st spring commencement of the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Congratulations, graduates!

Thank you, Ryan, for that beautiful performance.

There are the stars of today’s ceremony, seated here before us in academic regalia. And then there are the people up in the stands who helped make sure these stars could shine as brightly as possible.

So let me add my personal welcome and thank you to the proud parents, spouses, partners, children, siblings, family, and friends joining us from across the country and around the world — some of you here in person, others with us on the livestream.

Graduates, let’s give them one more round of applause!



If friends and family helped make this long journey possible, there is another group that made it incredibly worthwhile: the members of the faculty and staff who have taught and advised and mentored you.

Your strongest supporters and, sometimes, your toughest critics. They have challenged you to reach beyond what you might have imagined you could achieve, and today they are extraordinarily proud.

Faculty and staff, will you please stand as you are able? Let’s give them a round of applause!

I want to recognize that this celebration is also bittersweet.

For a number of you, there are friends, colleagues, and family members you are missing today, whose love and support helped bring you to this place. We remember them, too, on this day.

Many in our campus community are also feeling heartbroken over the devastating destruction, injustice, and loss of life in Israel and Gaza. Some of you have had to navigate this final year of your degree amid anguishing worry about friends and relatives there.

Please know that you are not alone in your pain and grief at this incredibly difficult time.


* * * *


I want to note that today’s program includes two special guests who have spent a lifetime working for justice in very different ways.

Amy Blumenfeld Bogost is a civil rights attorney and vice president of the Universities of Wisconsin Board of Regents (and a proud UW alumna whose three children are also Badgers!).

And the Reverend Dr. Alexander Gee, Jr., also an alum, whose life story of resilience, commitment, and extraordinary achievement is grounded here in Madison but extends so far beyond, is our 2024 honorary doctoral degree recipient.

Dr. Gee describes himself as an author, agitator, thinker, healer, and reconciler — and (as you will hear shortly) that’s just the start.

We are truly grateful to you both for being here today.


175 years

Every UW–Madison commencement is special, but this commencement is extra-special because you are graduating in an historic moment, as we mark the 175th anniversary of the founding of this great institution.

UW–Madison was created when the state was created, a recognition from the start that the engine of a great state is a great university. That’s as true today as it was in 1848. And across nearly two centuries, we’ve held fast to a tradition of honoring the especially noteworthy achievements of our graduates.

So if you are receiving a graduate degree today as a member of the first generation in your family to go to college or earn a graduate degree, please stand as you are able and make some noise.  Congratulations!

If you are a veteran or serving on active duty or in the reserves — family and friends, I’m talking to you, too — please stand as you are able so that we may thank you for service.

And I want to call out one member of this class whose resilience and perseverance are truly an inspiration. Tim Fish is a citizen of the Muscogee Nation of Oklahoma. He grew up on the Osage Reservation in Oklahoma, and it was a hard life, with little thought about education. He dropped out of high school and landed here in Madison, where he eventually found his way to Madison College, and then to UW–Madison. He says that education not only changed his life — it saved his life.

And today, at age 51, having already earned a bachelor’s degree and two master’s degrees here, Tim is the flag bearer for our Graduate School and will receive a PhD from our School of Human Ecology. Congratulations, Tim!


An exceptional university

All of you are now part of the legacy of this exceptional university. A place whose commitment to public service — which we call the Wisconsin Idea — has allowed us to push the boundaries of knowledge and understanding across almost every field of human endeavor for 175 years.

Consider just a few of the stunning advances we’ve achieved just in your time here:

  • At our School of Medicine and Public Health, neuroscience researchers devised a way using 3-D printers to arrange neurons — brain cells grown in a lab — into complex matrices in which the living cells communicate with one another, opening up a world of possibilities for understanding the signaling between cells in people affected by Down syndrome or Alzheimer’s, or evaluating the efficacy of new medications.
  • At the same time, researchers at our College of Engineering innovated a new way to forecast the growth of life-threatening cyanobacteria (better known here in Madison as blue-green algae), giving communities across the country and around the world that depend upon clean lakes for health and recreation precious time to plan their mitigation strategies.
  • Meanwhile, our College of Agricultural and Life Sciences is developing new techniques for cranberry cultivation so growers can save crops threatened by increasingly unpredictable weather patterns — vital work in a state that grows more than half of the entire world’s supply of cranberries!
  • And those of you who have worked on international research collaborations know that you sometimes need to be able to communicate in languages that aren’t commonly taught (in Africa alone, there are more than 2,000 languages spoken!). Researchers in our College of Letters and Science have led the nation in innovating ways to help people acquire new languages. And now they’re putting that expertise to work in partnership with our African Languages Program to develop an approach to self-instruction that will help this university and many others to expand their language offerings.


Bona fides

Whether you have completed an MD or an MFA, a DVM or a PhD, or one of the other top degrees we’ll confer this evening, you have well and truly earned your bona fides.

Which is a funny term. Bona fides is one of those expressions that has come down to us across the centuries from the Latin. We now take it to mean “the real thing,” like the credential each of you will receive today.

But there is also a deeper meaning. Literally translated, bona fides means “good faith.” And good faith is something beyond a credential. It’s a way to be in the world.

It’s about honesty. Integrity. Transparency.

So while your credentials are sterling, your good faith is golden.

Today as you set forth, I can tell you that you are bound to stumble. You will make mistakes, as we all do. But if you do your work in good faith — keeping your promises, being direct and forthright but also kind — your family, friends, and colleagues will give you grace.

Graduates, for every late night … every early morning … every weekend spent monitoring experiments … every paper you graded … every work of art you created … and for all of those many hours spent struggling to wrestle your research into the right intellectual framework — this day is for you.

You’ve earned your bona fides.

Thank you for being part of our wonderful UW–Madison community.

I hope you will stay connected to your fellow graduate students, your friends for life who share this indelible connection to one of the greatest universities in the world.

And I hope, wherever life takes you next, that you’ll come back and visit us often here in your Madison home.

Congratulations … and On, Wisconsin!