Four seniors who will leave their mark on Brandeis

A mortarboard decorated with flowers and text reading "The World Awaits"

Photo Credit: Gaelen Morse

Staff Writers
May 15, 2024

Like their classmates, these four seniors came from different backgrounds, pursued varied fields of study and participated in a wide array of activities. Despite beginning their collegiate careers in the middle of the COVID pandemic in the fall of 2020, they thrived in their time at Brandeis.

Sydney Lenhart wearing a soccer uniform and holding a soccer ball under her arm
Photo Credit: Gaelen Morse

Sydney Lenhart

Through bonding with her teammates on the women’s soccer team, Sydney Lenhart ’24 found her community at Brandeis. She’ll be returning in August to play one final year while completing her master’s degree in biotechnology.

The biology major chose Brandeis because of the close-knit community, small class sizes, and opportunity to travel alongside the women’s soccer team. With pandemic restrictions in place, the team didn’t take the field until her sophomore year. That didn’t stop Lenhart from finding her closest friends on campus.

“We got creative and found ways to build a community,” she said. “It was so exciting to finally hit the field during our sophomore year.”

Favorite Brandeis memories for Lenhart included traveling for major soccer events, such as the UAA conference games, spending time with friends, and participating in annual campus events. Her favorite event each year was the homecoming celebration in the fall. During the university’s special weekend, both men’s and women’s soccer teams have the opportunity to play for the community.

“I loved getting to play while being cheered on by friends, family, and alumni,” said Lenhart. “It’s so special.”

Lenhart decided to stay at Brandeis for one final year and is enrolled in the five-year masters in biotechnology program. She’ll be joined by a few peers participating in the same program.

Eitan Marks
Photo Credit: Gaelen Morse

Eitan Marks

A strong Jewish community brought him to Brandeis. A passion for the university will keep Eitan Marks ’24 on campus, even after graduating.

The Near Eastern Judaic Studies major quickly found himself at home in the Jewish community on campus, joining the university’s Hillel chapter. Despite the pandemic restrictions during his first year on campus, he found creative ways to stay engaged. He participated in Shabbat markets, online events, and asked peers to meet for one-on-one coffee conversations. Once more activities shifted to in-person formats, he took every opportunity to connect with the community.

“After restrictions were lifted I had the opportunity to enjoy the full range of programming and Jewish life that happens on campus,” said Marks.

Over time, Marks developed a curiosity to learn more about a different element of Brandeis; the history of the university’s buildings. He reached out to University Professor Jonathan D. Sarna to inquire about mentorship for a research project. Sarna, intrigued by the idea, agreed to work with Marks on his project. Over a two-year period the pair worked together, going deeper into the university’s archives and developing an interactive timeline of the university’s history. Marks’ research eventually became the basis of his senior thesis.

“That experience encapsulates what makes Brandeis unique,” said Marks. “Faculty members take time out of their schedule to help students pursue their interests.”

Upon graduation, Marks will take on the Presidential Fellow position within the Office of the President. Marks will participate in the highly selective, one-year position on campus, serving as the special assistant to the Chief of Staff.

“I felt that even after four years, I have more to give back to a place that has given me so much in terms of education, people, growth, and meaningful experiences,” said Marks.

Noelia Vega Morales
Photo Credit: Gaelen Morse

Noelia Vega Morales

Noelia Vega Morales ’24 had her sights set on Brandeis as far back as 9th grade. Granted, she had a pretty clear view of the campus, growing up in the university’s hometown of Waltham.

Meeting Waltham High School seniors who had received Stroum Family Waltham Scholarships made Brandeis appear even more accessible. The scholarship, established by Samuel N. Stroum, a Waltham High graduate, businessman and philanthropist, provides four top WHS students with full tuition for four years at Brandeis.

As a junior, Vega Morales won Brandeis’ Junior Book Award, which provided her with a copy of “Tuesdays with Morrie,” in which Mitch Albom ’79 famously wrote of the wisdom shared by his sociology professor, Morrie Schwartz. It would prove to be a foreshadowing event for Vega Morales.

The summer before her junior year, Vega Morales attended the Global Youth Summit on the Future of Medicine, a precollege program that introduced her to the potential of research. As a senior, she took a science course in which Brandeis students introduced Waltham High School students to the rigors of lab work. Propelled by her interest in science, she decided Brandeis was for her. As she graduated from Waltham High in 2020, she was awarded one of that year’s Stroum Scholarships.

But it would be her Undergraduate Writing Seminar, not a science class, that would make all the difference for Vega Morales. In “Medical Ethics,” she learned from Associate Professor Lisa Rourke, currently the interim director of the University Writing Program. Their relationship extended far beyond the course; they met regularly throughout Vega Morales’ four years at Brandeis.

“Instead of ‘Tuesdays with Morrie,’ I had Wednesdays with Lisa,” Vega Morales told the audience at this year’s annual breakfast honoring the incoming and outgoing Stroum Family Waltham Scholars.

Rourke’s mentorship helped inspire Vega Morales to become a mentor in turn, to her fellow players on the Brandeis Football Club - Women’s Team, to the Waltham High School girls’ junior varsity soccer team, which she coached for three years while at Brandeis, and to other Brandeis students in Rourke’s classes.

Vega Morales majored in Health: Science, Society and Policy, and last summer had an internship at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Cardiac Device Clinic. After graduation, she will return to Mass General as a cardiac device technician, where she already feels connected.

Close up of Noah Risley
Photo Credit: Dan Holmes

Noah Risley

Noah Risley ’24 started their experience at Brandeis in the fall of 2020, during the peak of the pandemic. Despite the barriers, they found their community, got involved, and met their girlfriend.

“My girlfriend and I were standing next to each other in the COVID test check-in line on our first day,” said Risley. “We’ve been smitten ever since.”

The Comparative Literature and International and Global Studies double major spent their four years at Brandeis dedicated to two organizations on campus: the Brandeis Democrats and the Student Union. After serving in many different positions in the Union, they were elected to serve as President during their senior year.

“That was a really special memory for me,” said Risley. “[Being the first openly non-binary student to serve as the president of the Student Union] felt like I broke barriers for the LGBTQIA+ community on campus. It was a big moment.”

While they look forward to pursuing their goals after graduation, such as getting involved in local political nonprofits and continuing to work in their community, it’s bittersweet to leave the Brandeis bubble.

“People joke that we’re in a bubble, but I think it’s comforting. Brandeisians make up a more considerate and accepting community that asks about pronouns, your religious beliefs, etc.” said Risley. “It’s easy to assume good will because Brandeisians are just nice people.”