Fletcher, an epicenter of curiosity about the world

Reflection on the 2023 Convocation Ceremony
Latortue Gallagher
Dean Kelly Sims Gallagher presents the Hon. Alexia Latortue, F97, with the Class of 1947 Memorial Award

Taking the podium at the 2023 Convocation ceremony, Alexia Latortue, F97, spoke about her formative experiences at Fletcher as an epicenter of curiosity about the world. Latortue, currently the Assistant Secretary for International Trade and Development at the U.S. Department of the Treasury, received the prestigious Class of 1947 Memorial Award and served as keynote speaker for the afternoon’s events.

Convocation marks the opening of a new academic year. The 2023 ceremony was particularly special for Fletcher, as it began the school’s year-long celebration of its 90th anniversary. Latortue remarked on both the school’s legacy of confronting “complex, messy” challenges and the unique landscape that future graduates will face.

Latortue’s speech offered four key messages for students as they begin the academic year. First, how today’s major crises are “global and with no respect for national boundaries.” Challenges such as climate change, pandemics, and misinformation transcend antiquated notions of state interest. Second, these crises “require collective action and vibrant multilateralism.” Efforts at international action will only succeed when based in trust and with an ambition towards equity. Third, “leadership matters tremendously,” requiring courage, integrity, and clear communication. Fourth, students should take all they can from their time at Fletcher, but also give through energic involvement with the school community.

“I love the idea of global citizens,” Latortue said in her remarks. Her own work exemplifies how citizens can engage the broader world while serving their countries. Latortue arrived in Medford that morning from a diplomatic visit to Nairobi, Kenya, where she attended the first ever Africa Climate Summit on behalf of the United States. The summit is one example of increasing activism from emerging market nations that are determined to take a seat at the global diplomatic table. While in Kenya, Latortue experienced spontaneous encounters with fellow Fletcher alumni, demonstrating the school’s presence in these initiatives.

Recognizing Global Citizenship

In receiving the Class of 1947 Memorial Award, Latortue was one of several global citizens honored at the ceremony. Second year MALD candidate Akshaya Mohan was awarded the Alfred P. Rubin Prize in International Law. A student of human rights law, Mohan recently completed a volunteering project with Amicus ALJ, which provides pro bono representation to American prisoners on death row. The Robert B. Stewart Prize was awarded to two students, Leen Hayek and Madeleine Mathias, both 2024 MALD candidates. Hayek is a Mastercard Fellow with Fletcher’s Digital Planet and has worked as a development advisor with a focus on the Middle East and North Africa. Mathias is a returned volunteer from the Peace Corps mission in Cambodia and has served as a legislative assistant on Capitol Hill.

Faculty and staff were also recognized with awards. The Fine Family Faculty Fellowship, which supports the research needs of junior faculty, went to Professor Melissa McCracken for her work studying transboundary water cooperation. Three staff members were honored as Administrators of the Year: Lisa Avery, the Associate Director of the World Peace Foundation; Marisa Doherty, Assistant at the Office of Professional Education; and Rob Tedesco, Associate Director for Academic Affairs. The Faculty Research Award was presented to Professor Josephine Wolff, who also delivered Convocation’s faculty address.

Advice for success

Professor Wolff addressed Convocation on return from a semester-long sabbatical, which she spent advising U.S. government agencies on matters of cybersecurity and cyberinsurance. Introducing Wolff, Academic Dean Monica Duffy Toft noted her widely-regarded expertise in this area, her work published “everywhere from MIT Press to Wired.

Wolff commented humorously on the dynamic of an academic embedded in the federal government; her advocacy for further research and avoiding assumptions “confirmed their worst fears about what it would be like to bring in a professor.” A note she discovered from her own time as a graduate student shed further light on the role of faculty. “Your job is to flounder,” Wolff’s doctoral advisor had told her, “and mine is to let you.” A mentor can play a valuable role by providing students with safe opportunities for trial and error.

Convocation’s student speaker also focuses her professional work on the digital realm. Mitakshi Lakhani, a 2024 MALD candidate, works as a research assistant at Fletcher’s Digital Planet and spent her summer on an innovation team at The Rockefeller Foundation. Echoing Wolff’s address, Lakhani advised incoming students to “embrace ambiguity.” Students can use Fletcher as a mirror, to “try on all hats” and explore various possibilities for a life in global affairs.


A proud moment for Fletcher

Opening and closing the ceremony, Dean Kelly Sims Gallagher remarked on the extraordinary moment for Fletcher as the school celebrates its 90th anniversary. The milestone comes at a time of great achievement. In the summer months, Professors Elisabeth Leake, Aram Hur, and Alex de Waal won the SHAFR Ferrell Book Prize, the APSA Dahl Award, and the RAI Huxley Award, respectively. Faculty earned millions of dollars in government research grants, the executive education program hosted the Asian Development Bank for a special residency, and the school made significant upgrades to campus facilities. Tufts University Provost Caroline Genco took the podium to connect these recent achievements to Fletcher’s long legacy at the “cutting edge” of global affairs.

Whether through hostage negotiation, cybersecurity scholarship, or development diplomacy, the Fletcher community has mobilized for 90 years to tackle the challenges of yesterday, today, and tomorrow. It is this community that new students at Convocation were welcomed to join.

“When I left campus, I took a part of Fletcher with me,” Alexia Latortue told the audience in ASEAN Auditorium. As Convocation concluded, each of the assembled students became a part of Fletcher.

Watch the full 2023 Convocation ceremony here: