Chosen by his classmates to deliver the first student address at a Class Day ceremony hosted by the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA), senior Remy Reya spoke about how the world’s current crises impacted him and his classmates, and how they rose to meet the occasion.
“Our classes are often limited by space and time; in a normal year, we might have remained more distant from the humanitarian issues that concern us. This year, faced with crisis after crisis, our class embraced the University’s motto in new ways,” Reya said. “We pushed forward in the nation’s service from the ground up; we placed ourselves in the service of humanity by engaging with our communities in real and tangible ways.”
Reya’s tribute to his classmates’ resiliency anchored the virtual Class Day ceremony honoring the School’s 123 graduating seniors. The Class of 2021 studied at SPIA during not only a global pandemic, but also a time of institutional transformation — with changes in the role of dean, and Princeton’s Board of Trustees voting in June 2020 to remove Woodrow Wilson’s name from the School.
Reya reflected upon poignant questions these changes caused his class to consider. Declaring a SPIA major as sophomores meant declaring an academic home at Princeton, he explained. Yet, he and his classmates were forced by COVID-19 to forge a different relationship with this home and find new ways to build community. Later, Reya said, the renaming of the School caused them to think, “How would we build on the momentum of the summer of 2020 to make SPIA a more welcoming place for future generations of students?”
Reya acknowledged the change was “instructive in ways that would otherwise have been impossible.” “It’s up to us to capitalize on the dynamic nature of the spaces we inhabit, and to push them toward informed visions of justice,” he said.
Ultimately, the historic timeframe the Class of 2021 spent at SPIA proved to be a turbulent yet exciting time to study public and international affairs, according to David Wilcove, faculty chair of the undergraduate program. Despite the circumstances, he shared, the seniors grew to become true problem-solvers who are well-equipped to tackle urgent challenges like climate change, racial injustice, and inequality.
“All of you demonstrated an extraordinary degree of resilience. That you showed so much of it during this difficult time is a tribute to your character and to your commitment to Princeton,” Wilcove, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and public affairs and the High Meadows Environmental Institute, said. “[I hope you’ll] double down on your commitment to the hard work of building a more just, compassionate, and sustainable world. You’ve got the skills to make a difference, and you’ve shown us just how strong you are.”
Many in the Class of 2021 seized opportunities to research the implications of the top policy issues of the day, writing junior Policy Task Force papers and senior theses on topics such as the impact of COVID-19 on migrant workers and U.S. public schooling, race and policing, and the impact of college admissions policies on under-represented minority students.
In addition to the skills they honed, Interim Dean Nolan McCarty said the seniors depart SPIA with a deep appreciation for public service, as well as a commitment to building and maintaining accountable and inclusive institutions.
“Wherever the future takes you, I'm sure you will take a bit of the spirit of Princeton-inspired public service with you,” he said. “Now, more than ever, the world needs your skills, your energy, your creativity … in short, the world needs you.”
Upon recognizing each graduating senior individually, Paul Lipton, associate dean for undergraduate education, concluded the ceremony by encouraging students to “exhale, breathe, and fight for the things you believe in with integrity and compassion.”
Prizes and Awards
The following seniors received awards from SPIA for their overall leadership, scholarly excellence, and invaluable contributions — including offering input on the undergraduate program and its curriculum, serving as senior commissioners in junior policy seminars, and leading as members of the student advisory committee.
The Donald E. Stokes Dean’s Prize recognizes a senior or seniors who has/have displayed extraordinary leadership and made the most significant contributions to the Undergraduate Program and to the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs.
Paul Lipton, associate dean for undergraduate education, presented the prize to Morgan Smith and Abraham Waserstein.
The Gale F. Johnston Prize in Public Affairs is awarded to a senior who has shown both great improvement and achieved excellence in work at SPIA.
Lipton presented the prize to Morgan Mills.
The Class of 1924 Award is awarded to the student who makes an outstanding contribution to a junior policy task force as a senior helping their junior colleagues prepare their report and presentation.
Lipton presented the award to Edward W. Mowinckel for his contributions to the “Rethinking US-European Relations” task force taught by former U.S. ambassador Robert Hutchings.
The following seniors received thesis prizes from the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs:
The Myron T. Herrick Prize is awarded to the writer of the best senior thesis in the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs.
Recipient: Cy Watsky
Thesis title: “Strategic Dispositional Voting and Policy-Making on the U.S Supreme Court”
Thesis adviser: Charles Cameron, professor of politics and public affairs
Second reader: Nolan McCarty, interim dean, Susan Dod Brown Professor of Politics and Public Affairs
The School of Public and International Affairs Thesis Prize is awarded to the senior/s who writes the best senior thesis on racial justice.
Recipient: Eric Guerci
Thesis title: “Ready or Not, Here it Comes: American School Districts’ Responses to the COVID-19 Pandemic”
Thesis adviser: Douglas Massey, Henry G. Bryant Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs
Second reader: Timothy Nelson, lecturer of public affairs
Recipient: Alaina McGowen
Thesis title: “Policing the Police: The Impact of the Black Lives Matter Movement on Eliminating Police Officer Investigatory Protections”
Thesis adviser: Jonathan Mummolo, assistant professor of politics and public affairs
Second reader: Ismail White, professor of politics and public affairs
The Richard H. Ullman Prize is awarded to the senior who writes the best senior thesis on a subject with foreign policy implications for the U.S.
Recipient: Margaret Baughman
Thesis title: “Selling China’s Story Well: The Chinese Government’s Pivot to ‘Privatized Propaganda’ on Western Social Media.”
Thesis adviser: Rory Truex, assistant professor of politics and public affairs
Second reader: Emily Pronin, associate professor of psychology and public affairs
The Lieutenant John A. Larkin Memorial Prize is given to a senior or seniors who has or have written the best thesis in the field of political economy or on a broadly interdisciplinary subject in which economics plays the most important part.
Recipient: Nikhita Salgame
Thesis title: “Negotiating the Narrative: An Analysis of China’s Investment in Foreign Media Influence”
Thesis adviser: Rory Truex, assistant professor of politics and public affairs
Second reader: Rebecca Perlman, assistant professor of politics and international affairs
The following seniors received awards from SPIA Centers and Programs, or from other departments within Princeton University.
Regina Lankenau Ahumada received the Stanley J. Stein Senior Thesis Prize in Latin American Studies from the Program in Latin American Studies.
Tyler Ashman received the J. Welles Henderson '43 Senior Thesis Prize in Legal Studies from the Program in Law and Public Affairs.
Seoyoung Hong was the second-place winner for the Suzanne M. Huffman Memorial Senior Thesis Prize awarded by the Program in Gender & Sexuality Studies.
Julia Ilhardt received the book prize in Environmental Social Sciences from the High Meadows Environmental Institute.
Zoe Kassinis received the European Union Program Best Senior Thesis Award from the European Union Program.
Katherine Leggat-Barr received an honorable mention for the Global Health & Health Policy Senior Thesis Prize from the Center for Health and Wellbeing.
Emily Reinhold received the Environmental Studies Senior Thesis Prize from the High Meadows Environmental Institute.