Given the diversity of the Fletcher student body and the longevity of the School, which produced its first graduates in 1934, finding common threads among the vast network of alumni is no easy feat. But Dr. Jenny Aker, Assistant Professor of Development Economics and a 1997 graduate of Fletcher, is up to the challenge. At last weekend’s Class Day celebration, Dr. Aker told the Fletcher class of 2012 that what unites the School’s alumni around the world is “our passion for our work, our motivation and our sense of community, which came out of our experience at Fletcher.”
Under the backdrop of sunny spring weather, the broader Fletcher community came together last weekend to honor more than 200 graduates across six programs—many of whom were accompanied by their children—to acknowledge the achievements of distinguished practitioners and academics, and to welcome back alumni from more than nine past classes participating in their reunion.
Dr. Aker was the first of a series of illuminating and inspiring speakers that included international foreign policy leaders, distinguished alumni, graduating students and acclaimed professors who participated in the extended celebration spanning three days.
“During your time at Fletcher you have probably learned more than what was actually taught in the classroom,” Dr. Aker suggested.” In that sense, my time at Fletcher was not that much different from yours.”
In her speech during Saturday’s Class Day Ceremony, Aker urged the budding graduates—the newest batch of alumni—not to forget future generations of students in need of guidance and professional connections. She then commended the diverse career paths of the class, noting that while “you will be leaving here with the same piece of paper, your paths forward are going to be as different as the ones that brought you here.”
Held on the Saturday before Commencement, the Class Day Ceremony is a chance for alumni gathered on campus to welcome the newest graduates and an opportunity for the School to honor and recognize distinguished academics, practitioners and alumni.
Dr. Richard Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, provided the Class Day keynote and was awarded the Dean’s Medal, the School’s highest award bestowed upon one who has served notably in the international arena. Dean Bosworth presented the award, describing Dr. Haass as “someone who has studied on and worked on almost the entire breadth of issues that challenge the global community, someone whose intellectual passions are broad and deep.”
In his address, Dr. Haass outlined the major challenges—mainly coming from within—that the United States will face in order to continue playing a leading role globally. “The risk is not the emergence of a peer competitor to the United States,” he clarified, “but the lack of partners capable and willing to tackle world problems together with us.”
“A usual theme of my speeches is that the world matters,” explained Dr. Haass. “But there’s no need to cover that today, at one of the few places in the country where people are trained precisely on how to address global issues.”
Another theme common throughout the 79th Fletcher Commencement Weekend was the gratitude for the families of the graduating class. Speakers both days asked the Class of 2012 to honor their loved ones present in the audience, to which the graduating students stood up, turned around and thunderously clapped and waved towards their respective family and friends.
Student representatives of the Class of 2012 also acknowledged the sacrifices of their families in helping them and their classmates arrive at this momentous occasion. Sebastián Molano, a Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy graduate originally from Colombia, recalled his displeasure with waking up early for English classes when he was seven years old. “Back then, I didn’t understand that my parents were giving me the keys to experience the world.”
Bilal Baloch, a Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy graduate from the United Kingdom, reflected on the “beauty, brilliance and diversity” of his class, trying to explain what makes Fletcher, and the Class of 2012 in particular, so unique. “We imagine the world differently,” he concluded, after drawing on examples from past alumni and current graduates alike.
“My class will not simply enter the world—we will be shaping it.”
Students also honored Professor of Practice in International Economics Lawrence Krohn with the 21st annual James L. Paddock Teaching Award, selected and bestowed by Fletcher students to the faculty member who best exemplifies excellence in teaching. Following introductions by Student Council member Christopher Spangler, Professor Krohn delivered an impassioned acceptance speech extolling the importance of civility in public discourse, not merely as a morally desirable trait but as a necessity for constructive problem solving and cooperation toward the common good.
Other prizes and awards conferred over the weekend included:
- The Edward R. Murrow Award for Excellence in Public Diplomacy, awarded to David B. Wharton, United States Foreign Service Officer
- The Robert B. Stewart Prize for an Outstanding First-Year Student, awarded to Maliheh Birjandi Feriz
- The Edmund A. Gullion Prize for an Outstanding Second-Year Student, awarded to Marianne Schneider and Andrew Schwartz
- The West Publishing Law Prize for Excellence in Law-Related Courses, awarded to Hanna Jang
- The Peter Ackerman Award for the Outstanding Doctoral Dissertation, awarded to Georgia Kayser
Fletcher graduates also attended the 156th Tufts University Commencement earlier on Sunday, where they found a keynote speaker with a somewhat familiar—and truly inspiring—background. Eric Greitens, a former Rhodes Scholar, Navy SEAL and White House Fellow, has been involved in humanitarian efforts around the world and has authored numerous books. From the platform, he urged graduates to use all their talents and abilities to find a way to be of service to others, as that is the path towards “a meaningful adventure.”
Bringing Sunday’s festivities to a close, Dean Bosworth quoted former Dean Halford Lancaster Hoskins, who said to one of Fletcher’s first graduating classes that “their work will be of an unusually significant nature.” Eight decades later, Dean Hoskin’s counterpart shares that sentiment.
“Now more than ever, the world really needs you,” Dean Bosworth told the Class of 2012. After a weekend of festivities, gratitude and pride, it is time for them to carry on a long-standing tradition of successful Fletcher graduates, continuing the common thread uniting alumni across the program’s history.
-- Elia Boggia, candidate MALD ‘13
Images: Ed Malitsky Photography
Video: Gino Beniamino