COMMENCEMENT DAY – MAY 21, 2017
Humor, Humanity and Calls to Action Usher Fletcher’s Newest Graduates into the World
The sun shone and a light breeze swept through the tent on what would mark the pinnacle day for the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy’s Class of 2017: Graduation.
Students processed in caps and gowns and sat in anticipation of their moment to cross the stage, flip their cap tassel, and receive their diploma, but first settled in to receive words of wisdom and cheer from a few faculty and classmates.
Leading the ceremony was former Dean of the Fletcher School and current Henry J. Braker Professor of Law Jeswald Salacuse, joined by a distinguished panel of current deans, professors, and board members.
Professor Salacuse welcomed the graduating students with a hearty congratulations and a bit of history and context: “Since 1934, the Fletcher School has graduated students who have made important contributions to government, business, the world of non-profits, and education,” he said. “Today you become part of that tradition, joining an impressive 9,697 Fletcher alumni living and working in 145 different countries around the world.”
After giving accolades to the family and friends who have supported the 2017 graduates, Professor Salacuse went on to talk about a member of the Fletcher community who was lost too soon. In April 1992 “a superb teacher who worked tirelessly to improve Fletcher,” academic dean and professor of law, James L. Paddock passed away. As the school’s first full-time business professor, Paddock planted the seeds of what would become The Fletcher School’s Masters in International Business (MIB) program. Paddock’s dedication to the school and example of excellence is now honored through the presentation of an annual award in his name to a professor selected by the graduating student body.
Ammar Karimjee, a F17 MIB, provided the students’ perspective ahead of bestowing the award. “This year’s recipient of The James L. Paddock Teaching Award is someone truly special: Professor Patrick Schena,” he said. Karimjee shared anecdotes depicting Professor Schena as someone whose “office hours are always full” and who selflessly gives his time to lend an ear and share advice, no matter the subject or time of day. “Professor Schena embraces the true meaning of what a Fletcher professor is; he’s happiest when his students are succeeding,” Karimjee told the crowd.
Schena, a “double Jumbo” grad himself, received his MALD in 1981 and his PhD in 2000. After a few deep breaths, he received the award with great humility, honor, and humor. “I was told I have to be funny. Do I look like someone who could host SNL even once?” he joked. He went on to marvel: “For me, it is gratifying and remarkable that I share something specific with all of the students in the room.” Then, alerting the crowd to his forthcoming cliché, he said: “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. Teaching at the Fletcher School is truly the great pleasure of my life. Where else do you get to work with people who are deeply committed, passionate, intellectually curious, and fun to be around?”
Prof. Schena implored the students to “remember, we are now all part of a common legacy, a common family. Join together to ask, to search, to discover, and then create and build. Never succumb to mediocrity. Never cower to those who say it isn’t possible. We don’t have the time or luxury for any of you to do that.” To great cheers and a standing ovation, he imparted these final thoughts to the assembled graduates: “Do not be strangers - though that’s the last thing I usually have to tell anyone. And yes, I do have office hours tomorrow morning at 10am.”
Next to address the graduating class of 2017 were two of their own: Tanay Tatum and Natialia Prieto.
Tatum, a MALD graduate with a calm yet tenacious demeanor, turned the tenor of the celebrations to a more serious note. Tatum wove together a picture of a world in the throes of political, social, and economic turmoil. She recalled finding herself in South Africa on a Fulbright scholarship prior to her acceptance at Fletcher, feeling guilty and torn about the national ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement that was unfolding in her own backyard of Florida with the shooting of Treyvon Martin.
Doing what she could to make sense of both of her worlds, Tatum joked, “like any good millennial, I turned to blogging,” and used that blog to draw parallels between South Africa and the United States. She painted a convincing picture reminding her fellow graduates that all politics - even global politics - are local. “Coming to Fletcher was my way of committing myself to the global agenda,” she said.
“I learned at Fletcher that any successful global strategy starts at the local level,” said Tatum. Sounding more hopeful, she went on: “You all get it. You get that ‘special Fletcher sauce’ that understands that failed policies in Syria result in immigration issues in Europe. And that the global and U.S. economies are stronger with NAFTA. And that all national politics and global policies start locally.” In closing, she called on her fellow Fletcher 2017 grads to unify to make a difference. “We owe it to the uninsured, the unemployed, the refugees, the ‘Treyvons’. We can fight back, work hard, organize to make a difference. For every Brexit and Trump, there is a Merkel and Macron,” she rallied.
Tatum left her classmates with the following thoughts: “I haven’t committed to a job yet. And I don’t know how much of that ‘Fletcher jet-setting, problem solving’ I will get to do. But I will call on all of you to do it. And I hope you will call on me, too.”
Bringing the crowd around with a slightly lighter tone, the class’ final speaker, Natalia Prieto, took to the stage with some self-deprecating humor and warm words for her fellow classmates.
Prieto detailed her own journey to Fletcher and reminded the assembled crowd what brought them here in the first place: the caliber of people who join the ranks of The Fletcher School. Calling her fellow graduates across the various degree programs “courageous dreamers, doers, fearless problem-solvers, and believers,” Prieto reassured the room that it takes all kinds to take on the challenge of making a real impact on the world. She noted that Fletcher’s welcoming environment brings out each person’s innate sense of pride in where they are from and, in doing so, enriches the entire student body through its celebration of diversity.
She ended her speech with a challenge to her classmates and call to action: Never forget to question, to stand in the shoes of others; never forget to act in courage, never forget ‘The Fletcher mafia’,” she said, referring to the expression fondly used to describe the extended Fletcher network of alumni and friends. “Soy Colombiana, but from now on, I am also Fletcher. The Fletcher identity will live with us beyond graduation. Be yourself. Be Fletcher. Be the world,” she urged the Class of 2017 before joining them for one last item of Fletcher business: receiving their hard-earned diplomas.
CLASS DAY – MAY 20, 2017
NBC News’ Richard Engel Speaks, Accepts Dean’s Medal at 2017 Class Day Ceremony
As Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent for NBC News, Richard Engel has covered wars, revolutions and political transitions around the world for nearly 20 years; as this year’s keynote speaker for The Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy’s Class Day Ceremony, Engel discussed a transition of a different kind.
“You are among the world’s future leaders,” he said. “You should be excited, but you should also be a little bit nervous. What are you going to do as leaders in foreign affairs?”
Engel is known as one of America’s leading foreign correspondents and is the author of three books, A Fist in the Hornet's Nest, And Then All Hell Broke Loose: Two Decades in the Middle East,and War Journal: My Five Years in Iraq. His work has received numerous awards, including seven News & Documentary Emmy Awards, a Peabody Award and the Medill Medal for Courage in Journalism. Today he accepted an award of a different kind: The Dean’s Medal. Past recipients of that award include media mogul Arianna Huffington, former Secretary of State John Kerry, and Prime Minister of Canada, Paul Martin.
Fletcher School Dean James Stavridis said Engel perfectly personifies the work of Edward R. Murrow: “In this era of alternate realities, of internet lies, of competing versions of reality, Richard is an old reporter. He’s a young guy but he has the kind of reporter sensibility that Edward R. Murrow brought to the job.”
During his keynote address, Engel discussed how the current state of journalism, including “fake news” and censorship, are critical issues facing today’s graduates. “The news media and journalism are under attack. And it’s not just journalists that are under attack; it’s the truth itself that’s under attack,” he said. “Censorship is more subtle than it’s ever been and it’s dangerous.”
Now, when governments don’t like a story, they try to hide it by pushing out alternative facts creating “fake news.” This dangerous new form of censorship called “static censorship blurs the truth by bombarding people with fake news so they don’t know what to believe,” Engel explained. “If all news seems equally tainted, people tune out. You get exhausted, you give up.”
As hectic as the world seems right now, it only appears more complicated than it really is due to the influx of information, Engel said. The most important thing we can do is to recognize that censorship and fake news exist.
“There are patterns. What you need to do is train your ears to hear these patterns and train your eyes to see through the static,” he said. “This is one of the most important skills that you, as future foreign policy leaders, can have.”
In the end, Engel left the graduates with a message of hope and a task: It’s up to today’s graduates to shape the future of truth and the way it’s expressed in the media. “What is the good news in all of this? You have to be the good news. You can’t be complacent because we can’t afford it. You have to work hard to preserve human rights around the world and freedom of the press. Be aware, be skeptical and fight for us. Truth is under attack, but I do believe journalism will emerge stronger from this.”
Rousing and insightful as it was, Engel’s speech was just one highlight in what turned out to be a jam-packed ceremony. Alumna Lis Tarlow (F84, F97) returned to her alma mater to address the 2017 graduates. Tarlow attended Fletcher at the same time as Dean Stavridis and joked, “I wish I had some great stories about him; I wish I had some dirt to dig up on him.”
Graduation speakers often caution students that the world is in a precarious state, Tarlow said, but this notion has never been more relevant than at the current time, and a Fletcher education offers the perfect preparation to tackle the growing problems our world faces.
“With its multidisciplinary approach, you have all received truly one of the best international relations education in the world,” she said. “Fletcher teaches students to be nimble, to be flexible and to look at problems from a variety of perspectives.”
Fletcher Mexico City Alumni Club Founder, José Luis Stein (F08), was also on hand to receive the second annual Fletcher First Ten Award for his commitment to promoting Fletcher to the next generation of world leaders. Stein told the crowd he was humbled by the award: “I am fully conscious that I am lucky to have been considered for this award. There are many other Fletcher alumni who deserve it.”
For the first time this year, a Fletcher staff member was also honored at the Class Day ceremony. Associate Registrar, Ann Marie Decembrele, who has worked at the school for nearly 30 years received the inaugural Fletcher Outstanding Administrator Award. Dean Stavridis cited Decembrele’s “quiet, yet highly efficient manner and her wise advice” as just a few of her much appreciated traits.
Noting her shock when she first heard news of the award, Decembrele said: “To have been selected for the award from amongst all of the dedicated and deserving administrators at Fletcher, I now know how it feels to win an Oscar. It is humbling to know that my work and time here have been recognized and appreciated when there are so many others that are equally deserving. The award is simply gratifying!”
Click here to watch both ceremonies