Dean Merit E. Janow congratulated the Class of 2018, which comprises 736 students from 68 countries in seven academic programs. Janow extended a welcome to friends and family in attendance, offering special recognition to the Mother’s Day honorees spending part of their day with their graduating children.
Janow saluted the graduates, noting that a SIPA education “has never been more relevant to a complex world” and observing that SIPA and Columbia “have never been more committed to developing solutions around the world’s most intractable and important challenges.
“We hope that you have been challenged, tested, and above all emboldened to apply what you have learned at SIPA to benefit our society and our planet,” Janow said. “You are a remarkable class and we have deep confidence in your ability to achieve great things.”
Janow also welcomed the featured speaker, UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed. Mohammed had previously served as minister of environment in her home country of Nigeria and before that as a special adviser to then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, playing an instrumental role in shaping the landmark 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
In her remarks, Mohammed advised students to both lead and serve, and to be “receptive to every possibility.”
“If you want to make a difference to our divided world, which faces so many global challenges, keep your mind open, keep looking and thinking—and perhaps above all, resist the urge to embrace stereotypes or to jump to conclusions, particularly negative ones,” she said.
Mohammed – a self-described “faithful Muslim” with one parent from Nigeria and another from Wales—said she had long faced stereotypes because of her name and her appearance.
“You know those T-shirts that read ‘This is what a feminist looks like?,’” she said. “I want one that says ‘This is what a Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations looks like.’”
Mohammed lamented that interactions between people too often drive them apart when they could be building bridges.
“Finding solutions to the global challenges we face requires us to find common ground,” Mohammed said. “That means looking for similarities, not differences. It means looking for solutions, not problems.”
She concluded with by throwing down a figurative gauntlet.
“Look for opportunities to make a difference and you will find them,” she said. “I am living testimony to the power of this principle. I challenge you all to do the same.”
Former SIPASA president Katarina Luz Mayers MPA ’18 spoke on behalf of graduating students, and lauded her classmates for their passion and perserverance.
“We all made a conscious decision not only to recognize global challenges but also to do our part in addressing them, and that takes grit,” Mayers said.
“You have what it takes to make our shared world a better place,” she said. “Your contributions matter.”
Congratulations to the Class of 2018!