Heller Congratulates the Class of 2024

May 20, 2024

2024 graduates with Interim Dean Maria Madison and Marc Kiredjian '05, Associate Director, Academic Affairs and Innovation.

Heller graduates were celebrated during a joint Brandeis University Graduate Commencement Ceremony on Sunday, May 19. The group included 19 doctoral graduates from the classes of 2023 and 2024, and 210 master’s graduates from the classes of 2023 and 2024. They represented more than 40 countries, speaking more than 36 languages.

Interim Dean Maria Madison addresses graduates during 2024 Heller graduate receptionInterim Dean Maria Madison greeted the Heller class of 2024 at a reception held on Friday, May 17, by reciting an excerpt from Maya Angelou’s poem, “On the Pulse of Morning.” Building on the poem’s themes of inclusiveness in facing the past and future, Dean Madison expressed confidence that the graduates will help to solve urgent, persistent, and pernicious social inequities and challenges due to the training they received and the social ties they made while at Heller.

“Graduates, you are reentering a rapidly transforming world. A world where social bonds and public trust have been increasingly challenged, where AI is being unleashed and created in alarming ways, where loneliness has become the newest epidemic according to the country’s leading public health experts. Never has the need for people to enter the fray of social policy, armed with knowledge and skills and guided by a moral and social justice compass, been more important and more pressing. To this, I say, stay focused, stay connected to each other, build bridges, put your oxygen mask on first, practice random acts of kindness, be grateful for your achievements past present and future, be humble, be forgiving, make change. I have every confidence that you will make Heller proud as you move to the next chapter of your life.”

Thuong Nong, PhD'24, in graduation cap and gownRepresenting the PhD in Social Policy program, Thuong Nong, PhD’24, talked of the adversity she and other Heller graduates overcame which eventually laid the foundation for coming to Heller.

“I am truly honored and humbled to speak on behalf of the class of 2024. It has been a long journey to be here today, both in terms of time and distance. I was born in one of the poorest mountainous villages in Vietnam where we didn’t know that the concept of doctorate existed. I and my friends had to cross mountains and springs on horse barefoot to go to school everyday. And by ‘school,’ I mean a small classroom built from bamboo by villagers. My story is just one of the unique stories we each bring to Heller. Here we are collectively celebrating our achievements. We are grateful for all of the challenges that have made us stronger. To my fellow graduates, remember that we wanted to come to Heller not just to be better, but to be stronger in order to support other peoples’ dreams and make this world a more equitable place. We are no longer alone; we are Heller.”

 Read the transcript of Nong’s remarks.

Ashley Robinson, MBA/MA SID'24, in graduation cap and gownRepresenting the Social Impact MBA program, Ashley Robinson, MBA/MA SID’24, described how Heller gave her a more nuanced understanding of the phrase, “it’s all about who you know.”

“I used to resent that adage, thinking ‘well, why don’t my merits qualify me to walk in the room alone?’ But we do nothing in this world alone. And we certainly have the group projects under our belts to prove it. Heller showed me that it is all about who you know. But when others say it, they mean finding the people hoarding power. At Heller, what will truly make a difference in your trajectory is who you know who values collaboration over competition, who you know who doesn’t see humanity as an afterthought. As each of you continues your journey, I wish you all the courage to passionately change and continue to be someone people should know.”

Read the transcript of Robinson’s remarks.

Fabiola Mejia Rodriguez, MA SID/COEX'24 in graduation cap and gownRepresenting the MA in Sustainable International Development program, Fabiola Mejia Rodriguez, MA SID/COEX’24, expressed gratitude for her family—her mother, sister, grandmother, and great aunts—and to all of the supports in the graduates’ lives.

“I’m sure that we’ve all climbed our fair share of mountains these years, and each time, we’ve been able to meet the challenge. That takes courage, vision, and a lot of willpower. But it also takes a village. I’ve always believed that life’s climbs cannot be completed alone. So to the people who have given us support, gentle patience, and boundless love in all of our journeys, thank you. Whatever form that support took, the essence of this message remains the same: gratitude for those who have illuminated our paths.”

Read the transcript of Rodriguez’s remarks.

Sandra Sallar, MS GHPM'24, in graduation cap and gownRepresenting the MS in Global Health Policy and Management program, Sandra Adams Sallar, MS GHPM’24, discussed her cohort’s strength, resilience, and bond with pride.

“We moved from our communities, from our families, from our countries all over the world. It was a new experience for most of us, but we rose to the challenge and kept looking fresh every day. We shared our life together. We formed a little family, we had a wedding, we mourned a loss, we had a baby. Through it all we grew closer to each other.”

Read the transcript of Sallar’s remarks.

Katherine Nace, MPP'24, in graduation cap and gownRepresenting the Master of Public Policy program, Katherine Nace, MPP’24, talked about insights gained from talking with her colleagues about the MPP program.

“This program and experience have helped us bridge the gaps in knowledge and acquire tangible skills essential for entering the field of policy. It has clearly demonstrated the widespread concern for these complex issues and the number of individuals motivated to pursue careers and degrees aimed at tackling them. Furthermore, this experience has equipped us with the power and the capability to critique and dismantle restrictive policies that perpetuate oppression. It has broadened our appreciation for this opportunity to delve deeply into pressing societal issues while navigating the nuances inherent in policy analysis and implementation. Importantly, beyond gaining concrete skills and knowledge, we are taking with us the invaluable relationships created within our community, all of which made this experience even more fulfilling.”

Read the transcript of Nace’s remarks.

Liz Peterson, MA COEX'24, in graduation cap and gownRepresenting the MA in Conflict Resolution and Coexistence program, Liz Peterson, MA COEX/ILHR’24, reflected on her “to-do” list over the course of her studies.

“When I tell someone that I study Conflict Resolution or Coexistence, the initial reaction is, ‘you have a lot to do.’ Yeah, my ‘to-do’ list is long. As I reflect on my journey here at Heller, my to-do list has also changed many times. And, I’ll often brag that while I’ve been here and I’ve gained invaluable learning from our amazing professors, some of the best lessons I’ve learned have come from the people seated beside me. Many of our cohort have been living and working on the front lines of famines, wars, and gross human rights violations that we’ve dedicated our time to study. But after each of these stories that I hear from my cohort, there’s always a beacon of hope that follows. Because we have chosen to join the Heller family, because we recognize the pain in the world but we also wholeheartedly believe in our own ability to enact positive change. So, yes, my to-do list may be lengthy, but I take solace in knowing that now it’s a shared to-do list between me and all the Heller graduates.”

Read the transcript of Peterson’s remarks.

Dr. Simone Wildes, EMBA'24, in graduation cap and gownRepresenting the Executive MBA for Physicians program, Simone Wildes, EMBA’24, talked of her astonishment at how far her cohort has come and also took a moment to recognize Dr. Jon Chilingerian.

“This journey has been transformative. It has pushed us to open our minds to new ideas and perspectives and to develop skills that we never knew we possessed. Under the guidance of our exceptional faculty and staff, we have grown exponentially. In particular, I would like to take this moment to recognize Dr. Jon Chilingerian, may his soul rest in peace, for the ‘fantastico’ impact on the health care landscape. Jon would love that. Thank you, Jon.”

Read the transcript of Wildes’s remarks.