Commencement 2018: “Change always starts with one person"

May 13, 2018

See photos from Commencement Weekend on Facebook! 

The Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University celebrated its 59th Commencement on Mother’s Day weekend this year. The weekend began on Saturday with a reception for students and their families at Zinner Forum in the Heller School building.

At the reception, Ryan Mishler, MPP’18, received the Barbara Wakefield Award, which is given each year to a graduating student who has contributed in a significant way to community-building across Heller’s programs through their activities, attitude and involvement. Mishler, who is president of the newly-formed Brandeis Queer Graduate Student Union, helped organize this year’s 7th annual Lavender Graduation Ceremony and presented their Capstone on homeless LGBT Youth in the Boston area.

From left: Pam and Joel Cohen, Ryan Mishler and David Weil. Joel Cohen was the husband of Barbara Wakefield, a valued Heller staff member who died in 1996.

On Sunday, graduates took center stage in front of a full house of family and friends in Spingold Theater Arts Center. The 132 graduates walking in this year’s ceremony came to Heller from nearly 40 countries around the world, receiving 127 master’s degrees and 5 doctoral degrees.

Dean David Weil took the stage for his first Heller Commencement, welcoming everyone and offering a few words of advice to graduates.

“Today you will depart with a Heller degree, a toolbox of critical skills and frameworks, new perspectives, and a family of fellow alumni into a world that desperately needs your help,” Weil said. “Whether you choose to combat inequality in healthcare or the workplace; create a new venture that empowers an impoverished community; join the ranks of dedicated civil servants locally, nationally, and globally; transform corporate culture at a Fortune 500 company or a set off on a different path all together, know that the Heller community is behind you in your fight for social justice, every step of the way.”

Read the full transcript of Dean Weil's remarks.

Dean David Weil recognizes Marion Howard and Deborah Stone, two professors who are retiring.

Every year, in lieu of an outside speaker, each degree program selects a student representative to give brief remarks. The morning’s first student speaker was Delia Kimbrel, representing the PhD in Social Policy program. She spoke about the structural disadvantage and concentrated poverty she witnessed growing up in Wichita, Kan., saying, “While researchers predict that my background alone would sediment me into the bottom rungs of society, I stand before you today as a member of the 1.7 percent of the entire U.S. population with a doctoral degree.”

Delia Kimbrel, PhD'18

Read the full transcript of Delia Kimbrel’s speech.

Next, Jessica Sanon spoke as the student representative of the MBA in Nonprofit Management program. She shared her initial nervousness about entering graduate school, and the struggles of often being the only black woman in a room. But thanks to the support of her peers at Heller, she grew more comfortable making herself heard. “I began to find pieces of myself that I have lost. Even though I am still finding her, I am no longer walking behind fear nor hand in hand. Instead, I find myself, even if it is just an inch, walking ahead of the fear.”

Jessica Sanon, MBA'18

Read the full transcript of Jessica Sanon’s speech.

Representing the MA in Sustainable International Development program was Joe Wilson, originally from Liberia. He spoke about many of the hardships he faced growing up during that country’s civil conflict, and made an impassioned plea to improve opportunities for women in the Global South, saying “As development practitioners, we must champion the need to make smart investments in the lives of women, especially in areas of science, technology, engineering and math.”

Joe Wilson, MA SID/MS'18

Read the full transcript of Joe Wilson’s speech.

Funke Falade spoke on behalf of the MS in Global Health Policy and Management program about how her year at Heller has changed the way she thinks about improving the health care system in her home country, Nigeria. “When I think of my country and others like I it, I wonder if being told what to do, when to do it and how to do it has not been a big part of our problems. And I wonder if any community, society or country ever fully develops without coming to the realization that its must seek its own answers.”

Funke Falade, MS'18

Read the full transcript of Funke Falade’s speech.

The Master of Public Policy program chose Sylvia Stewart as student speaker, and she expressed her gratitude for everything her peers taught her over the last two years. “I felt that love and that true care as you encouraged me to find my feet and excel here. I saw that true expression of love as you all fought to make Heller a more inclusive and equitable learning environment, and I continue to see that love in the dedication to knowledge and social justice you continue to have—despite what feels like a crumbling of social norms in a swirling storm of alternative facts.”

Sylvia Stewart, MPP'18

Read the full transcript of Sylvia Stewart’s speech.

Priyanka Renugopalakrishnan, who represented the MA in Conflict Resolution and Coexistence program, urged her fellow graduates to think creatively as they pursue change and impact in the world. “Peace, despite all that’s said, is still a matter of imagination to most and to bring that to reality, we must not let our imaginations stop us from reframing, redefining and reinventing the systems that exist today.” 

Priyanka Renugopalakrishnan, MA COEX'18

Read the full transcript of Priyanka Renugopalakrishnan’s speech.

Watch the full video of commencement: