The Heller School for Social Policy and Management

MS Commencement Speaker: Nokwanda Kota, MS GHPM'19

May 19, 2019

Nokwanda Kota
Nokwanda Kota, MS GHPM'19

Good morning.

I’d like to begin by expressing my sincere gratitude to the Heller School, the MS program and my peers for this amazing opportunity. Thank you also to our friends and families in the audience today: your presence and support is greatly appreciated.

Brandeis University and the Heller School have been more than just a place where my CV has received a super-shiny upgrade. I have been part of an institution and community that embodies its social justice principles. And, despite the difficult, populist politics spreading hate against minority groups and foreign nationals in the U.S. today, Heller has been an important space for critical debate and meaningful engagement within an often uncomfortable but ultimately nonjudgmental space.

Naturally, the journey has not been without its challenges. Personally, my enduring inspiration has been one young Mozambican protagonist: Nhamo, from the well-loved Nancy Farmer classic A Girl Called Disaster. The story details Nhamo’s solo trip from Mozambique to Zimbabwe and is essentially a coming-of-age tale about what it takes to survive in a hostile environment.

One of my favorite quotes reads: “The other girls in the village never felt restless. Nhamo was like a pot of boiling water. 'I want...I want...,' she whispered to herself, but she didn't know what she wanted and she had no idea how to find it.”

We are all like Nhamo’s boiling pot of water. Brimming with possibility and ideas about how to do things differently; how to find a greater purpose and ultimately, how to change the world! Many of us quit our jobs and completely changed our lives to embark on graduate studies, going against the proverbial grain and against well-meaning advice from others. 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.

Like Nhamo, we are all charting unique paths: many of us will have moments of serious trepidation when we will be fearful as we traverse dark forests and climb grim, treacherous hills, but there will also be exciting times as we discover new and amazing things. For many of the MS graduates, our dark forests were health economics and our treacherous hills were cost effectiveness analysis…but we made it!

To end, as Professor Fournier says, "you are the almighty decider." You are the almighty decider about how you are going to live your life’s adventure. There is no single path to our dreams, no single path to success and certainly no single path to changing the world. Our journeys—like our backgrounds—are diverse and inspiring in their difference and this is one of the reasons that being a Heller graduate is particularly special.

As Justice Brandeis aptly said, “There is a spark of idealism within every individual which can be fanned into a flame and bring forth extraordinary results.”

I hope that the Heller School continues to nurture the spark of idealism in future graduates. To my peers: congratulations on this momentous occasion. I hope that you will always embrace the boiling water within and use it to advocate for positive change wherever you go.

Thank you!

Media Contact

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