Jainaba Gaye, Heller MA’21: Meet the 2021 graduate Commencement speaker

Jainaba GayePhoto/Jainaba Gaye

Jainaba Gaye, Heller MA’21

Careful reflection guided Jainaba Gaye, Heller MA’21, as she decided what to say at Brandeis University’s 70th Commencement Exercises as part of her graduate student speaker remarks.

Gaye, a native of Sinchu Sorrie, the Gambia, will use her speech on May 23 to share her experience of earning a graduate degree from the Heller School for Social Policy and Management’s Conflict Resolution and Coexistence Program. Her time at Heller has shown her the reward of going beyond one’s comfort zone in pursuit of goals, a message she feels will be compelling for her mentors, friends and peers.

“One lesson I’ve learned in the last two years is to take risks,” Gaye said. “Don’t be afraid to take leaps or to use the tools you have to start working on your dreams. Opportunities can present themselves even when you feel you’re not ready or need more time.”

Gaye said she almost spurned the opportunity to study at Heller after graduating from Kennesaw State University in 2018. 

At first, she felt she needed a longer break between completing her undergraduate degree and starting graduate school.

However, Gaye eventually realized that the opportunities at Heller — from the application process, to the coursework in the Conflict Resolution and Coexistence Program and the faculty who would mentor her — were too important to risk delaying grad school.

“I got exactly what I wanted here at Heller, even if I didn’t think I was prepared,” Gaye said. “But I don’t regret anything. I am glad I did this. I hope people can take that to heart, especially if there’s something out there that they’ve always wanted to do.”

Gaye’s master’s thesis explored looming crises and preventing violent conflicts and election violence, and uncovers why there is a disconnect between Conflict Early Warning and Response. It also provides recommendations to peace practitioners and policymakers on how best to bridge this divide and consequently prevent violent conflicts.

Throughout her time at Heller, she has worked with Mercy Corps and Mediators Beyond Borders. After Heller, she plans on continuing to study mediation and early-conflict resolution, which she says have broad applicability in tense situations around the world.

“The Heller program was a perfect fit,” Gaye added. “I am so honored to be able to give this speech at Commencement and share my experiences. I really felt like people needed to hear my story, so I wrote a speech that is personal and from the heart.”

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