COEX Commencement Speaker: Francis Ojok, MA COEX'21

May 24, 2021

Francis Ojok, MA COEX'21, in a commencement cap and gown in front of flowers, a bench, tree and building at Brandeis
Francis Ojok, MA COEX'21

To be here today, I know it has not been an easy journey for most if not all of my cohort.  Each and everyone graduating today have come a long way and from all walks of life.

We come together carrying the weight of very different struggles. Some of us are victims of conflicts and wars. Others came from countries destroyed by corruption and gross human rights abuses, loss of livelihood because of climate change, and more. But one thing that ties us all together is that these struggles inspired us to envision and spend our lives working toward a better world. 

I am so proud and lucky to share space and learn from each and every one of you.

My name is Francis Ojok, and I am from Uganda. I am humbled to be graduating today with a master’s degree in Conflict Resolution and Coexistence.

They say, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” and thus was my journey to the Heller School for Social Policy and Management. My first step began under a mango tree, from an internally displaced school in Northern Uganda’s District of Gulu.

When I arrived at Heller, learning firsthand on a field trip to Plymouth Plantation about the history and relationship between the Wampanoag Native American tribe and the British colonists, I knew that this was going to be a lifetime experience that would change my views forever.

There is no success without struggle, as shown by my time at the Heller School. To make lasting change requires hard work every day. When the work got to be too much, I was able to find leisure time with my classmates.

Whenever I felt lonely from being thousands of miles away from home, I found friendship and comfort within the diverse student community at the Heller School. Whenever I felt down, I was lifted by the wonderful community at the Heller School.

The Heller School became my home. I laughed and even forgot that I was a continent away from home.

Not even the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with the ongoing struggle for racial equity and justice amidst brutal human rights abuses by law enforcement in countries around the globe could stop us from being there for one another, cheering each other on, and continuing to seek learning to advance social justice.

Today, as we walk out of the Heller School’s doors, we are the face of social justice. May we harvest the planted seed of seeking deeper understanding before prescribing solutions to the world’s problems.

May we step forward as agents of change and peacemakers in our own communities; and may we step back as listeners and learners, creating a space for underrepresented groups of people to take part in and be the face of their community peacebuilding process.

May we harvest the seed of teamwork and collaboration, for we Brandeisans understand more than anyone that it’s only through teamwork that we can collectively achieve world peace.

Above all, may we harvest the seed of love, humility, and respect planted in us while at Heller School. In whatever we do, may we show empathy, and treat everyone with dignity and respect.

May our actions be a reflection of the Heller School’s mission to build a “socially inclusive society.”

May we share the Heller School’s vision of a world where diversity is embraced for its positive potential, and may we apply in our daily lives a core value of the Heller School, which is respect for all persons.

Congratulations to all of today’s graduates and may your light and spirit shine brightly from Africa to Antarctica, from Asia to Australia, from Europe to North America, and to South America.

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