2024 SPIA Hooding Ceremony-Dean Jamal and graduating students

‘Engage With Empathy and Compassion’

May 30 2024
By Tom Durso
Source Princeton School of Public and International Affairs

Speakers at Princeton SPIA’s Hooding, Class Day Ceremonies Evoke Civility in Dialogue

Speaking at the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs’ graduate hooding and awards ceremony and undergraduate Class Day on Monday, May 27, Dean Amaney Jamal urged graduating students to engage in constructive dialogue and condemn dehumanization at all turns.

Dean Amaney Jamal (Photo credit: Guillermo A. Viera)

“You have been taught to analyze critically and to find common ground – skills that will serve you well going forward as policymakers,” she said. “During this time of international conflict, and with our own country so deeply divided as we approach a presidential election, it is profoundly important for us to engage with empathy and compassion, even with – especially with – those with whom we do not agree. The responsibility you bear as Princeton SPIA graduates compels this.”

At each ceremony, Jamal noted that the graduates had to overcome considerable challenges over the course of their time at Princeton.

The undergraduates began their studies in the fall of 2020 not in Princeton but virtually, as COVID-19 kept most of the world locked down. Over that year’s winter break, the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol shook the country. Just over a year later, not long before the graduating Master in Public Affairs students arrived at SPIA, Russia invaded Ukraine. And last October 7, shortly after the Master in Public Policy students had started, the war in Gaza began.

“You responded to the hardships … with determination, resilience, and kindness,” Jamal said, “traits I hope you continue to model in the years to come.”

Steven Petric (Photo credit: Guillermo A. Viera)

Observing that many of the graduates had participated in demonstrations and protests in support of a ceasefire in Gaza and its Palestinian civilians, she praised them for their dedication to justice.

“While doing so, many of you have challenged us to protect your free speech and free expression rights,” Jamal said. “You have also pushed us to think about what responsibility we as a community shoulder as wars rage on, innocent citizens continue to die, and enmities become more deeply entrenched.”

At the graduate level, SPIA’s Class of 2024 comprised 63 Master in Public Affairs recipients, including two earning joint MPA/J.D. degrees and four having participated in the Scholars in the Nation’s Service Initiative, and 25 Master in Public Policy recipients. Most were present to be hooded by Jamal at the ceremony, held in the morning in McCarter Theater. The School also graduated two Ph.D. students.

Steven Petric, SPIA’s assistant dean for global outreach, admissions, and alumni engagement, echoed Jamal’s call for civil dialogue and noted that the School seeks a diversity of perspectives among students in order to foster it.

Brontë Forsgren and Anthony Solís Cruz. (Photo credit: Guillermo A. Viera)

“We’re operating in hyper-polarized and -politicized times,” he said. “There’s a lot happening in the world and on our campus – and we don’t all agree on the way forward. There are so many complex, consequential policy challenges to solve. My hope is that each of you will look for common ground — build bridges, use the power of persuasion, what you learned at Princeton, and work for ways forward that bring as many people along as possible.”

Brontë Forsgren and Anthony Solís Cruz served as student speakers. Forsgren spoke movingly of the importance of solidarity and leaning on others in the wake of the sudden passing of classmate Maura Coursey in January 2023.

“The way that our cohort with the support of other cohorts was able to come together through that grief became something that in my opinion was almost holy,” she said. “The way we are all able to stand together and show love and support. We were able to strengthen each other the way we know that Maura would and did do for each of us, and that cannot be easily forgotten. That spirit of solidarity has remained with us throughout our time at SPIA, and I hope that it continues even as we scatter to different cities, states, countries, and continents.”

“I want to remember all of the ideas we shared and all of the ways we pushed one another,” Solís Cruz said. “I am especially thankful for those who used their voice … to fight against the genocide in Palestine. I know that we call contain multitudes and we have different complex identities, and we choose to engage in these kinds of conversations differently, and that is okay. We do not live in a world of dichotomies. We live in a world with wicked problems that have really effective solutions – but solutions that are kind of difficult to get at.”

At SPIA’s Class Day ceremony, held in the afternoon in Richardson Auditorium, graduating seniors gathered for the awarding of thesis and departmental prizes. Shruthi Bharadwa and Reva B. Singh spoke on behalf of the class.

Reva B. Singh and Shruthi Bharadwa. (Photo credit: Guillermo A. Viera)

“One lesson that I’ve taken away from my time as a SPIA student is that policy should be designed with real people in mind,” said Singh. “I’ve been lucky to learn from professors who themselves have worked – and sometimes failed – to solve the problems that our classes are also grappling with.”

“One of my favorite things about the SPIA major is that every person I have met in this department has a different experience of what the study of policy means,” Bharadwa added. “Though we all share the same analytical foundation, we all get to craft realms of policy expertise of our choosing.”

Seven graduating bachelor’s degree students were honored with SPIA awards and prizes at the ceremony.

Jamal concluded each ceremony by urging the graduates to work for a more just world.

“As long as there is still inequity in the world, your class must raise your voices in support of justice,” Jamal said. “The issues that will decide this November’s elections – the economy, immigration, healthcare, crime, education, the environment, and more – require compassionate, equitable policymaking. No matter your path, I’m confident you will develop into pillars in your own right on the issues that matter most to you and your communities.”

The University’s Baccalaureate ceremony, held Sunday, May 26, also had a SPIA flavor. The Baccalaureate speaker was SPIA alum Nusrat J. Choudhury, the first Muslim woman and first Bangladeshi American to serve as a U.S. federal judge. Choudhury earned her MPA in 2006.

“I wish you lives filled with meaningful and rewarding work that makes use of your great talents and pays those talents forward to those around you,” she told the graduating seniors. “I hope that as you move forward in your chosen professions that you approach different opinions and perspectives not as a threat — but as an opportunity to learn.”