Commencement 2019: “At Heller I Found the Community I Needed”

May 19, 2019

PHOTOS: See pictures of commencement weekend on Facebook!

VIDEO: Watch the full commencement ceremony (student speeches start at 1:09:45)

Heller graduates pose in front of Spingold Theater

Saturday, May 18, 2019: Dean's Reception

The Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University celebrated its 2019 Commencement festivities on a beautiful spring weekend in May. As always, the celebration began on Saturday afternoon with a reception for all graduating students, their families and faculty members in Zinner Forum at the Heller School.

Dean Weil, Ye Pogue, her husband, and Joel Cohen
From left to right: Dean David Weil, Ye Zhang Pogue, her husband, and Joel Cohen (widower of former Heller staff member, Barbara Wakefield)

At the reception, PhD student Ye Zhang Pogue received the Barbara Wakefield Award, which is presented annually to a student who has contributed significantly to community-building within and outside of Heller. Dean Weil introduced Pogue, noting her track record as an advocate for international students on campus. He added, “You even took your passions to the federal level, challenging the current race question on the 2020 U.S. Census with Asian Americans for Equal Rights and the Asian American Grassroots Coalition. Despite a heavy course load and employment, you advocated relentlessly in the public sphere.”

Pogue delivered a passionate acceptance speech, speaking about her identity and her ongoing advocacy work. “I am an Asian. I am Chinese. I am a woman. I have an invisible disability. All these factors definitely shaped my experience; however, I am beyond the combination of all these boxes and labels. What really defines me are my choices, not the things I could not choose. I chose to serve the community,” she said.

Read the full transcript of Ye Zhang Pogue’s remarks.

Sunday, May 19, 2019: Commencement

Bright and early on Sunday morning, 197 graduates and a host of families, friends and loved ones filled the Spingold Theater Arts Center for Heller’s commencement ceremony. The graduates—185 master’s and 12 doctoral degree recipients—represent over 30 countries and speak over 40 languages.

David Weil at commencement podium
Dean David Weil

Dean David Weil welcomed the audience of graduates and loved ones and stressed the importance of finding “social justice heroes” to inspire graduates as they go on to pursue meaningful careers. As an example, he spoke of his own grandmother.

“She came to New York City from Russia in 1905 at age 15,” he said. “Like many Jewish immigrants at that time, she lived in the Lower East Side of Manhattan in very difficult circumstances and worked in the garment industry… she never turned inward or became embittered. Instead, she was an inexhaustible optimist who taught her children and grandchildren that meaning and purpose comes from weaving social justice into our lives. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about my grandmother. Her example inspires me and keeps me moving forward.”

Read the full transcript of Dean Weil’s remarks.

Brooke Evans, PhD'19

Following the dean’s remarks, the audience heard brief speeches from seven student speakers, one from each academic program. Representing the PhD in Social Policy program, Brooke Evans described her decision to leave her home state of Hawaii to study at Heller. “Through my educational, research, and work experiences here at the Heller School…I have learned and worked with some of the brightest minds in health policy and taken part in conversations and activities on how we can improve the U.S. health care system to better meet the needs of all people – not just those with privilege, wealth, and resources,” she said.

Read the full transcript of Brooke Evans’ remarks.

Adwoa Asare, MBA'19

Representing the Social Impact MBA program, Adwoa Asare started with an extended thank-you to those who supported her and her cohort. She then gave three tips for success after Heller. Her first tip was, “Stay in touch with your Heller classmates across all programs. Lean on one another as friends and resources. We are naturally drawn towards those with whom we share interests. Remain open to new people and new ideas. As social justice champions we should continue to embrace those who are different from us.”

Read the full transcript of Adwoa Asare’s remarks.

Enet Mukurazita, MA SID'19

Enet Mukurazita took the stage next, representing the MA in Sustainable International Development program. She told the story of her mother, who made many sacrifices to prioritize her daughters’ education in their home country of Zimbabwe. “My mother’s life motivated me to move into the field of development after being initially educated in the business world. I wanted to learn how I could make a difference in the lives of many women like my mother who face all kinds of social injustices.”

Read the full transcript of Enet Mukurazita’s remarks.

Nokwanda Kota
Nokwanda Kota, MS GHPM'19

The MS in Global Health Policy and Management program chose Nokwanda Kota as their commencement speaker. Kota, originally from South Africa, inspired her classmates by calling upon her favorite literary protagonist, Nhamo from the book, A Girl Called Disaster. “We are all like Nhamo’s boiling pot of water,” she said. “Brimming with possibility and ideas about how to do things differently; how to find a greater purpose and ultimately, how to change the world! I’ve had many moments of doubt about leaving a ‘promising’ career in medicine. But when I reflect on some of the fundamental ways that my time at Heller helped me recognize and embrace the boiling water within, my doubts fall away.”

Read the full transcript of Nokwanda Kota’s remarks.

From left: Bria Price, MPP'19, and Nick Young, MPP'19

Breaking the pattern of other student speakers, the Master’s in Public Policy program chose two students to present joint remarks: Bria Price and Nicholas Young. The pair described their first meeting—at an MPP canoe trip during orientation—and then each described the incredible support they received as Heller students. “I found my crusade, economic justice, and when I would indignantly start spouting off about it, the cohort always responded with affirmation. This, to me, was the most amazing dynamic in our group. No one’s mission came at the expense of anyone else’s,” said Young. “In my first few weeks here, I struggled,” said Price. “I had to speak my truth about the problems I was facing. Once I did, I received support about the issues that divide us and the need to break down those barriers.”

Read the full transcript of Bria Price and Nicholas Young’s remarks.

Hend Nafea
Hend Nafea, MA COEX'19

Hend Nafea, originally from Egypt, delivered remarks on behalf of the MA in Conflict Resolution and Coexistence program. She told the story of her unlikely path to higher education and her participation in the 2011 Egyptian revolution in Tahrir Square. “Sentenced to life imprisonment, I fled Egypt in 2015,” she said. “I left with the goal to one day return home. I was warned that this may never happen…At Heller I found the community I needed…Heller equipped me with the knowledge, skills and tools needed for my fight for peace and social justice, human rights and my right of return, a hope I will never lose!”

Read the full transcript of Hend Nafea’s remarks.

Jennifer Cutts, EMBA'19

Last but not least, Dr. Jennifer Cutts spoke for the Executive MBA for Physicians program. She offered three pieces of advice to her classmates and the audience: “First, our outcomes will be best when we work together… Second, we need to listen for the quiet voices, because without them, we may lose important perspectives, and we may fail… Finally, we must challenge ourselves to assume the best of intentions in our colleagues.”

Read the full transcript of Dr. Jennifer Cutts’ remarks.

Provost Lisa Lynch, Susan Windham-Bannister, PhD'77, and Dean David Weil at Brandeis commencement
From left: Provost Lisa Lynch, Susan Windham-Bannister, PhD'77, and Dean David Weil at Brandeis commencement

Finally, at Brandeis commencement, held after Heller's commencement, Susan Windham-Bannister, PhD'77, received a Doctor of Humane Letters honorary degree. She's the managing partner of Biomedical Innovation Advisors and is an internationally recognized expert in innovation, market access, and market optimization strategies who was featured in Heller magazine last year.