The Fletcher School kicked off the academic year on September 6th, 2013, at the Annual Academic Convocation, with speakers highlighting the school’s important role in building bridges and fostering change in the world.
Admiral James Stavridis, Former Supreme Allied Commander at NATO, took the stage in his first Convocation as Dean of The Fletcher School to give an overview of the state of the School. He noted that despite recent crises in the world such as the global economic recession and the ongoing crisis in Syria, Fletcher is well equipped with the tools needed “to know the world in the coming years” and eventually to change it for the better.
Stavridis noted “the state of the school is very strong” across every important dimension, from new courses being considered on subjects such as the Arctic and biology in international affairs, to the work Fletcher is doing with institutions like the World Peace Foundation,
Building on a similar theme, keynote speaker and Fletcher alum, Ambassador Barbara Bodine (F74), noted that institutions like The Fletcher School serve as important vehicles to foster debate and promote change, with professors teaching students about the processes of the past and students then reshaping this knowledge to solve problems in the future.
“I hope we will be able to find the common purpose to build bridges to resolve problems,” Bodine, who earned her Master’s at Fletcher, said in her address, entitled “Teach Your Children Well.”
Before delivering her speech, Bodine received the Fletcher Class of 1947 Memorial Award, presented this year by Edward Bloch (F47). Previous recipients of the award have included leading figures in diplomacy and business from Ambassador Thomas Pickering (F54) to Fred Bergsten (F62).
In her speech, Bodine also looked back at her time at The Fletcher School, noting that she was just one of 10 female students in her class – which also included only one Latino and one African-American student. She contrasted this with Fletcher’s remarkable diversity today, as women make up around half of the student population and minorities around a third.
“As I look at you today, the face of Fletcher is different,” Bodine said, adding that a diverse student body and faculty are especially critical in erasing barriers across cultures and peoples.
Speaking on behalf of the faculty, Leila Fawaz, the Issam M. Fares Professor of Lebanese and Eastern Mediterranean Studies, also emphasized the “uselessness of barriers” and “usefulness of communication” and encouraged Fletcher students to make connections, both on an international and local level.
She quoted Stavridis’ recent remarks about how the 21st century needed to be about fostering security by “building bridges” as opposed to “creating walls” as was attempted in the 20th century, resulting in 60 million dead in two world wars and destruction around the world.
Even as both incoming and returning students were grappling with workday issues like finalizing course schedules and finding the right work-life balance at Fletcher, student speaker Nihal Chauhan, F14, reminded his classmates of the deeper meaning of belonging to the Fletcher community.
“Fletcher’s meaning to me can be summarized into three themes: diversity, community and building bridges,” Chauhan said.
Chauhan added that these themes had personal resonance for him, having grown up in a military facility in the Kargil district of Kashmir, which was the site of armed conflict between India and Pakistan in 1999. The region saw renewed tension over the summer during Chauhan’s return home.
He implored fellow students to stay passionate, examine new challenges, and work toward solutions all in the spirit of “contributing to the powerful prism of learning that is Fletcher.”
-- Prashanth Parameswaran (PhD Candidate)