Grads, families look at Brandeis and the road ahead

Commencement day filled with celebrations and dreams

Photos/Mike Lovett
As students raced up and down South Street to commencement ceremonies – clutching coffee and pizza or each other, accepting flowers, adjusting their caps – the road that follows graduation was on their, and their families’, minds.

Some looked for the best examples of those who came before them. Sequan Born Spigner ’13 needed look no further than last year’s commencement speaker, Posse Foundation founder Deborah Bial ‘87. The organization identifies and recruits public high school students who might otherwise be passed over by the traditional college-admissions process, and sends them in multicultural teams to selective universities.

Spigner was a finalist for a Posse scholarship, which prompted him to consider some alternative paths. An art major who grew up in New York City, Spigner joined the Transitional Year Program at Brandeis; the campus felt like a good fit for him, with its slam poetry team and focus on social justice.

“I feel amazing right now. I feel like my whole life has been leading to this moment, to my college graduation,” Spigner said before the ceremony. “Now I’m just thinking of the pillars of social justice and what I can do to contribute. It’s like Deborah Bial said at last year’s commencement: You don’t have to wait to make a difference in the world; you can use the education you have now to make small changes and build on that. I thought that was really inspiring.”

As he continues contemplating ways to give back, Spigner, who was joined by family from as far as Tennessee, said he plans to work on his portfolio and pursue a post-baccalaureate in art.

Jacob Zaslavsky ’13 also had an example to follow: his sister’s. From Fair Lawn, N.J., Jacob followed in the footsteps of his sister Bella Zaslavsky ’05, even if she thinks otherwise.

“I don’t think he really listened” to my advice, she said with a laugh, “but it was nice to come back and visit.”

Their father, Ilya Zaslavsky, said a number of factors – including Bella’s positive experiences at Brandeis – led Jacob, a biology major who plans to take a year off before attending medical school, to this day.

“He just thought it was the right place for him,” Ilya Zaslavsky said, looking back on the beginning of Jacob’s journey as the family gathered for commencement, “and he still thinks that.”

For some parents, the weekend involved complicated logistics. Marcie Link and her family came from Fairfield, Conn., to see her son Jesse Link ’13 graduate, but not before traveling to Rochester, N.Y., to see his twin sister do the same on Friday at Rochester Institute of Technology.

For Jesse, an economics and finance major who was initially looking for a larger school, the decision to attend Brandeis was the right one, his mom said.

“I think realizing he could play baseball here was part of it,” she said. “Baseball has been a huge part of his experience. It really functions like a fraternity. It provides structure, social interactions, he’s made great contacts.”    

Jesse Link, who will remain at Brandeis for another year as he completes his master’s degree, secured a position at Goldman Sachs and will travel to France with the International Business School this summer.

As Nora Li ’13 looks ahead, she’s also looking back.

“I’m so excited but I wish I could go back and do all four years over again!” Li said.

A double-major in business and sculpture, Li, who comes from Shanghai, said Brandeis appealed to her because she was very interested in Jewish culture. Indeed, during her four years of college, she attended many Shabbat dinners and holiday celebrations.

But if Li, who will begin a master’s degree in finance at Pepperdine University in the fall, had a sweet experience at Brandeis, if she had it to do over again she’d be more a joiner, she said. One of her favorite clubs? The Brandeis Cupcake Obsession.

Categories: Alumni, General, Student Life

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