Graduations, Celebrations, and Commemoration

| Shelley Stern Grach

It’s been a tough couple weeks. Without getting into politics or rhetoric, the loss of 49 innocent lives in Orlando shakes you to the core. The randomness of the awful event, the lack of control for the safety of a loved one.

That’s why it was so terrific to participate, support and applaud the accomplishments of a host of positive,  energetic events recently in the Chicago community. Let’s start with our great kids at Lake View High School. As mentioned in a previous blog, the Microsoft team was invited to participate in the commencement ceremony. It’s amazing to think that barely 4 years ago, these college-bound students were Freshmen, just starting in the City’s first Early College STEM program. As they have grown, so has the Early College STEM Program grown up. Special programs like the ISTI STEM Challenge have been added to supplement the experiential learning for the STEM Students.

Students were exposed to the corporate and business world through summer internships at tech and tech-related summer internships. And, perhaps most important, the Lake View High School Early College STEM students received college credentials and resume-building qualifications and documentation that set them apart in the college application process. Congratulations to all the students, their families, faculty and staff!

LVHS 2016 Grad

From graduation and high school, we moved to a different kind of “commencement” ceremony —the absolutely amazing Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) Sustain-A-City Celebration for the 2016 Urban Sustainability Apps Competition. The June 5th Apps Competition resulted in 4 terrific ideas (out of a landmark 15 teams) and our wonderful community partner Comcast hosted a huge celebration of the top ideas at Studio Xfinity. We heard lightning round pitches from the leaders.







Congratulations to Keeana Barber and Maurice Gunn, whose anonymous crime reporting app won our 2016 Urban Sustainability Apps Competition! 




The week of celebration continued with a new program, hosted by Congressman Danny Davis and his amazing staff. The focus was to provide more exposure about careers in STEM for Youth in the Congressman’s district. Think of this as precursor to what Lake View Students learn every day. The Congressman hosted the inaugural Youth Technology Town Hall, including speakers from all areas of tech and high tech, and demo’s for the students to play and learn about technology.




Microsoft was honored to be on the Career Panel and our amazing team from the Retail Store hosted an Entertainment Bar with devices and cool examples of how technology is fun. We look forward to hosting the Second Youth Technology Town Hall at the Microsoft Technology Center on October 13.

As a capstone to a week filled with “positivity”, our Civic Tech Fellow Kevin Wei and I were included in the graduation of the Second Cohort for the University of Chicago Civic Leadership Academy (CLA), held on June 17 on the UChicago Campus.


This was a very, very special ceremony. The keynote address was from Julia Stasch, CEO of MacArthur Foundation. Julia tackles the big, hard issues straight on—and this evening she was spot on, saying “Despite progress on many fronts, racial inequality& disparities persist. We need inside and outside strategies “, asking the graduates to take a leadership role in solving urban problems.

CLA Graduate Kia Coleman gave an inspiring speech, echoing the thoughts of many that week: “I stand with any person or community who has been marginalized.” And Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle also added her congratulations and thanks to the graduate, urging them to “help keep our democracy strong”.

What started as a troubling couple of weeks, with the predictable personal aftershocks of anger, doubt, sadness and a little fear, ended with inspiring stories of Lake View High School students  equipped for careers in the Digital Economy; with creative app solutions developed by a team in Englewood to help solve crime in our cities; with a Congressman and his staff helping to fill the pipeline of youth prepared to have careers in STEM, and with the graduation of our local civic leaders with their skills, their academic insight and even their souls fine-tuned to address urban challenges.

Here is what I learned about Chicago and myself the last couple of weeks:

  • If the City does not work for everyone, it does not work at all.
  • If I don’t raise my voice, who will?
  • I stand with any person or community which has been marginalized.

Chicago is facing serious challenges, and the way to address that is through leadership. And we have a great start with the Early College STEM Program, with CNT’s Urban Sustainability Apps Competition, with Congressman Davis’ Youth Technology Town Hall and with the University of Chicago’s Civic Leadership Academy. All working concurrently, simultaneously, and with similar missions: to grow our leadership to improve our City.

I love it.

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Shelley Stern Grach

They say that great work stems from a combination of passion and commitment, something that Shelley certainly possesses when it comes to her life and career. She currently serves on the boards of the Women’s Business Development Center, the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, Thrive Chicago, Year Up and LISC Chicago. At Microsoft Chicago, she’s the Director of Civic Engagement, working at the intersection of computing and community, promoting STEM programs and using Microsoft technology to spur growth in the community. So no matter if it's work, play, or giving back, Shelley always makes sure her drive and professionalism help her complete her life's goals.