Heller graduates reminded to ‘pull together’
Graduates of the Heller School of Social Policy and Management gathered in Spingold Theater on Sunday morning for a diploma ceremony recognizing Master of Business Administration, Sustainable International Development, Master of Science in International Health Policy and Management, Master of Public Policy in Coexistence and Conflict, and Doctor of Philosophy in Social Policy recipients.
Dean Lisa Lynch P ’17 urged graduates to stay true to Heller’s diversity pledge, pulling together to improve society. Addressing discrimination and bias, she charged the Class of 2014 to, “hold yourself accountable for your words and actions, even when it’s not comfortable.”
The school’s pledge — created by the Heller community — calls on alumni, students, faculty and staff to commit to intentionally and consistently acting to address societal inequities and injustices and working for a world in which everyone is free to be who they are and live fulfilling lives without having to overcome discrimination.
“To have any chance to build the social movements that will make this dream come closer to being a reality, you will need to form deep interpersonal relationships that link individuals, networks and organizations. This is hard but not impossible. The good news is that as you leave Heller you have this extraordinary network of classmates and faculty who are all willing to pull together with you,” said Lynch.
Student speakers emphasized the ways in which research and practice in the field of social policy and management “pull together” to link data to insight and theory to social change.
Speaking for the PhD class, Thomas I. Mackie stressed the school’s mantra, “Knowledge advancing social justice,” and its ability to connect Heller School graduates across countries, communities and cultures through a common passion for changing the opportunities available to disadvantaged individuals, wherever they are found. Reflecting on the scholarship of his PhD classmates, he noted that their research provides, “a deeper understanding of the lived experience of those with historical disadvantage, the collective social movements of these populations towards equity, the organizations that serve these populations, and the effectiveness of new innovations.”
The international scope of the Heller experience and the universal nature of the school’s social justice mission was highlighted as degree recipients were recognized by name and their country of origin from places spanning the alphabet and the globe, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.
Their stories of struggle and hope — and commitment to changing the world — were personalized by Johnny Charles, MBA ’14, who waved to his young son from the podium. He recounted his experience growing up as a young black man in the United States and completing his education despite numerous obstacles. His story of a five-year journey to the MBA and his advice to “see it through” received riotous applause from classmates and attendees alike.
Other student speakers shared their stories and aspirations. Bothaina Qamar MA ’14, Sarah Yehonenou MS ’14, Carmen Hicks MPP ’14 and Rebecca Herrington, MA ’14 touched on common themes of overcoming personal obstacles, working with their classmates to acquire the professional skills they need, and all urged their colleagues to continue to overcome barriers to social justice.
Yehonenou eloquently expressed the pragmatic idealism common to the various fields of study at Heller.
“Due to the political and cultural environment, some of us have a wide door of opportunity to make changes, while others have, perhaps, a window, and maybe some, just a pinhole opening,” she said. “But … we have the knowledge and skills to go out in the world and make the difference.”