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I’ve been very pleased with my new-this-year Student Stories feature on the blog. An attentive reader might ask, “Why so pleased? They haven’t been writing much lately.” True, critical reader. But here’s why I’m happy. When I asked each of the students if they wanted to inaugurate this blog theme, they all said yes. I appreciate enthusiasm — this was my first team and I didn’t need to go to my bench! When I met with each writer for the first time, I emphasized that there are plenty of places on the Fletcher web site to read interesting, but formulaic, student profiles. My hope was that we would work together to develop ideas for posts, and I have basically gone along with any idea they’ve presented. Overall, I didn’t know what the feature would look like when we launched it in October, but I knew that all would be clearer by the end of the academic year, in May.
But back to the fact that the writing tends to arrive in spurts (after winter break, for example). In this case, the reasons why they’re not writing may be as interesting as what they would have written. Let’s start with Maliheh. She emailed me an apology last week for not having submitted a promised post, but she really needn’t have apologized — I know exactly what she’s up to. She’s processing the bounty of acceptances she has received to PhD programs around the country. Was I surprised to learn of her success? No I was not. Maliheh is amazing. Don’t tell her I said that — she’s also humble.
What’s Mirza up to? He told me late last semester that he took on a research project that was intellectually satisfying, but used a lot of his time. Then, over the winter break, he and his musical partner revived their duo, Arms and Sleepers. They played some local gigs, and planned an amazing tour for Mirza’s spring break. In Europe or Russia? Don’t miss this opportunity to catch a performance — who knows whether this tour will be their last.
(I’d like to add a little practical note here. One of the reasons Arms and Sleepers is back is that Mirza realized his earnings potential is greater building on a past success than taking a part-time campus job. Many students are able to do something similar — consulting part time for a past employer, for example. File that away in your mental financial plan!)
Back to the writers. Scott has promised me a piece very soon. Not much more to say there. Roxanne continues to be very busy on campus with the Storytelling Forum (the website includes more and more content) and a new series of conversations about gender issues (curricular and more broadly) at Fletcher. Nonetheless, I arrived at work this morning and found an email from Roxanne containing her next post. I’ll share it as soon as I can.
Which leaves Manjula who, though an alumnus now, was the student who made me think that following students’ stories as they pursued their individual paths through Fletcher would be a good idea. Manjula has a million things going on connected to his organization Educate Lanka. A lot of them are in the “we’re a finalist” or “just need to sign the contract” phase, so we agreed to hold off on an EL update. But the organization more than keeps him busy, and any free moments can be spent writing for a larger audience on topics such as Unleashing Potential Through Education.
As much as Educate Lanka fills Manjula’s days, he still sets aside time for other activities, such as getting married. He shared some amazing wedding photos with me. I would love to post every single one of them — they’re that beautiful — but I’ll settle for just this one.
Manjula told me that the wedding outfits that he and his bride, Chara, wore are traditional in Kandy, the region of Sri Lanka that Manjula comes from. He explained that Kandy was the last kingdom in Sri Lanka (Ceylon), and the traditional wedding attire derives from royal regalia. He said, “The outfit I wore is called the Kandyan Nilame. And Chara’s jewellery and the ceremony that we followed are also according to the Kandyan traditions.”
So, blog friends, that’s what my writers are up to. Given their interesting busy lives, I’m happy to wait a little longer for their next posts.
A Fletcher PhD graduate, Patrick Meier, sent a note to some folks at the School recently about his work. Included was a link to a television commercial for a U.S. insurance company that developed as a result of his work on crisis mapping, which he started at Fletcher in January 2010, following the earthquake in Haiti. You can read more about Patrick’s work on his iRevolution blog. You’ll also want to check out his National Geographic Emerging Explorers page.
I suppose I should add that the Fletcher Admissions Blog isn’t in the business of selling insurance. But it’s certainly our business to reflect the cool stuff that our students and alumni are doing. I hope you’ll enjoy the video in that spirit.
Fans of the new House of Cards television series may be interested to know that the author of the book on which the series is based, Michael Dobbs, is a Fletcher graduate (class of 1972). In between the book and the new series was a BBC series, which took place (as did the book) in the British House of Commons.
I hear about alumni and their activities in various ways. There are always the official channels, and then there are the unofficial (email, facebook, etc.). Lately, these media have directed a variety of information my way, and I thought I’d share what I know, partly because it’s such a pleasant hodge-podge.
First, there’s the update on Manjula and Educate Lanka. They won the reader’s choice Millennial Impact competition on the Huffington Post! Well done, Educate Lanka!
On a slightly related note (the connection being alumni who are already working with their own non-profits when they start at Fletcher), there’s Qiam and the Afghan Scholars Initiative. While I don’t have any special news to share at this time, I might as well use the blog to help ASI, as well as your holiday shopping, by pointing blog readers toward Jawan — your source for scarves, with proceeds going to ASI. Qiam is back in Afghanistan right now, but he left a team of scarf salespeople at Fletcher, who have fostered sales by telling the community that wearing a Jawan scarf will definitely increase your hipster cred.
A little PhD alumni news: Maria Stephan, who also has a MALD degree, recently shared the World Order Prize for a study of civil resistance.
And then alumni news from a Fletcher friend. Charles Scott and I got to know each other during my first (pre-Admissions) Fletcher career, when he was a MALD student. After Fletcher, he worked for many years for Intel, but he left the corporate world a while back to pursue endurance athletics full time. Now he has a book, Rising Son, which chronicles the bicycle trip he took across Japan with his son, Sho. (He later biked with both Sho and Saya, his daughter, around Iceland. Book to follow?) While not signing books at some event, Charlie sends me regular updates on his activities (biking solo from New York to DC in 36 hours or less, running the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim, and other crazy stuff). And he writes for the Huffington Post, too. Even if you’re not into endurance feats, you may relate to Charlie’s work on behalf of the environment and related organizations.
Some years ago, a Fletcher tradition emerged from a tragedy. The annual Erica J. Murray Bone Marrow Drive, scheduled for tomorrow (Tuesday) was the community’s response to Erica’s death in 2008, as a result of leukemia and the lack of a good match for a bone marrow transplant.
With each passing year, an additional degree of separation is inserted between Erica and current students, but the power of potentially saving a life, starting with a simple cheek swab, links each new Fletcher generation to the one before, and the bone marrow drive results in dozens of new donors for the National Marrow Registry.
Even as an annual event, there are special twists this year. The first is that Mary, a staff member who is also an alum, has taken on the fundraising requirements for the marrow drive, and has done so with gusto! Pre-drive Zumba, led a current student/Zumba-master! Pre-drive pub night (with auction) at PJ Ryan’s (nearby Fletcher hangout)!
And before the pub night, a current PhD student who completed the MALD program narrowed the gap between Erica and current students when he transmitted a message to the community from a MALD alum — a message sure to inspire students to participate in the marrow drive, and also sure to leave few dry eyes. Munish wrote:
You don’t know me, but if we run into each other somewhere, we’ll seem familiar to one another. That’s because, as you’ve no doubt learned, Fletcher is a family and you learn to recognize your own. (If you come to PJ Ryan’s tonight, then we can meet in person!)
Four years ago, the extended Fletcher family lost a bright light in the form of Erica Murray. She was like us, and, at the same time, not. Let me start by saying that I did not know Erica that well — I only met her a few times — but her joie de vivre was apparent. I’m sure you know her story — if not, here is the short film that was made about her.
As her leukemia worsened, Erica shined brighter. She demonstrated to the rest of us how to handle adversity: with honesty, humor, and humility.
During the first bone marrow drive at Fletcher, there was record turnout; the local Bone Marrow Registry coordinator said she had never seen those numbers before. Of course, many Fletcher folks knew Erica then, and were excited to support this direct effort to help a phenomenal classmate. Sadly, our efforts did not result in a match for Erica, but in her memory, we continue the search on behalf of others. It only takes a moment to swab your cheek and you could be saving a life — yes, it’s that easy.
You can imagine the sadness that settled in, just about four years ago, when Fletcher got the news that Erica had passed away. This week, in between classes, finals, papers, and presentations, find friends who you’re going to miss when you leave Fletcher, and give them a hug. Ask them if they want to do the bone marrow registry thing. You’ll be channeling the love with which Erica led her life until the very end.
In memory of Fletcher family,
I’m going to be stuck in a meeting all morning, but I’m lucky again that students sent a blog idea into my inbox. Not just any idea, but an exciting bit of news for lovers of competition!
The Huffington Post is sponsoring the Reader’s Choice Awards for the IGNITEgood Millennial Impact Challenge, described as “a nationwide search for ideas to make the world better through service.” Among the 200 social innovators (under the age of 30) who submitted their ideas are TWO who are affiliated with Fletcher. Wow!
The second is that of PhD student Kartikeya Singh, affiliated with ENVenture, which he describes in an email as seeking “to empower youth to participate in the emerging energy entrepreneurship field, whilst simultaneously tackling energy poverty issues in the developing world. Winning this award will launch the pilot in Uganda and will push us into being able to expand to India. ENVenture fellows will create business plans and address the barriers to scaling of decentralized energy technologies in the developing world.” ENVenture is competing in the Green category.
Lucky for Fletcher, you can vote in each of the two categories. The competition ends November 26. Good luck Manjula and Kartikeya!
Those who have been reading the blog for a while and others who have scrolled through the archives may remember Manjula, a rock-star 2012 graduate. When we talked in the spring, Manjula agreed to my request to follow his story a little further, especially since he is continuing work started at Fletcher (as described in the spring’s blog post). Recently, he sent me the first of what I hope will be a series of updates. He wrote, “My post-Fletcher life as a social entrepreneur dedicated to Educate Lanka has been a challenging journey, but a very exciting one at the same time.” And he listed some of the highlights of the four short months since he left campus:
- The “It Only Takes Ten” campaign to raise funds for Educate Lanka was successfully launched and has made significant progress.
- Our story was published on USAID/State Department’s Diaspora Forum.
- I presented a speech at the U.S. State Department’s South Asian American Employee Association Cultural Diversity Event.
- VEGA (Volunteers for Economic Growth) presented me a Diaspora Volunteer Award and partnered with Educate Lanka.
- Our project on Global Giving was a success and is ongoing.
- I was interviewed for a Sri Lankan television (Young Asia Television) program.
Manjula and Educate Lanka are still benefiting from the support of his former classmates. Last spring, Fletcher students, faculty, and staff recorded two videos to kick off the “It Only Takes Ten” campaign. The videos are similar, but I’m going to share both anyway.
Many languages, One Meaning
and Many Countries, One Meaning
Quite a few Fletcher students have a goal to establish a nonprofit, and it’s an inspiration to all of us to observe Manjula’s work. He tells me that he has a few more projects lined up for the coming months. I’ll be checking in with him so that I can provide an update toward the end of the year.
It would be entirely frivolous for Admissions staff members to emphasize their role as match-makers. First, making matches is not an appropriate use of our time. Second, once we admit students, we can’t control who meets whom.
And yet…many students meet their spouses while at Fletcher, and I have decided to take credit for the happiness of two 2012 grads. I first met Ho-Ming in 2007, when she visited for an interview before she applied to Fletcher and, later, deferred her enrollment. Then, in the fall of 2009, I interviewed Aaron. Probably, I didn’t have wedded bliss in mind as I spoke to them as applicants. Probably. But just maybe, I knew, in the depths of my subconscious, that here were two prospective students who were meant for each other.
I think it’s fair to say that Ho-Ming and Aaron left campus after graduation in May with a lot of balls in the air, creating some uncertainty in their lives, but one thing was clear — they were going to drive cross-country before embarking on the next phase. So they bought an old van (Volkswagon Vanagon to be precise), adopted a puppy (Bean), and headed west. Along the way, they eloped!
Here they are, with Bean and the van:
And here they are, in Chicago, looking all married:
And now they’re in Indonesia, where Aaron has a job and Ho-Ming (last I heard) seemed well on her way to landing one of her own.
After I emailed Ho-Ming to ask if I could write about her and Aaron in the blog, she gave me the o.k. and noted that she had recently seen a photo of Fletcher alumni in Washington, DC and that there were four Fletcher couples from her year alone. “Definitely something about Fletcher,” she wrote. But most of those couples, I’ll guess, didn’t elope and then travel halfway around the world.
If, like me, you have a soft spot for happy endings, you can read more about the elopement here. And I should note that I borrowed the photos from that website, which credits them to “I Luv Photo.”
Tagged with: Fletcher couples
I’m always drawn to stories about the average Fletcher graduate. Yes, we can (and do) point to plenty of ambassadors or prime ministers whose great accomplishments shine a favorable light on their Fletcher education. We’re all proud that Thomas Pickering and Bill Richardson are Fletcher alums, but what about students who aren’t destined to represent the U.S. at the United Nations? The reality is that most of our alumni lead lives of quieter accomplishment. In my view, their success is the best indicator of what an incoming student’s post-Fletcher life might resemble.
In that spirit, here’s a nice story from The Boston Globe about a graduate of the PhD program. (Apologies for all the ads on the Globe page.) I didn’t work in Admissions at the point when Banafsheh sent the letter she describes, but Fletcher is fortunate that previous staffers acted upon it.
This is a Fletcher story: Of the community that connects us, and about one person’s achievement in uniting the community while improving the world.
The guy on the left in the photo above is Ben Sklaver. Ben graduated from Fletcher in 2003 and, having volunteered for the Army Reserve, was commissioned when he graduated. While on active duty in the Horn of Africa, Ben spent considerable time in northern Uganda, where his work often focused on improving access to safe drinking water. Upon his return to the U.S. in 2007, he founded a non-profit, ClearWater Initiative, to continue that work. ClearWater says that, in its first two years, Ben’s efforts helped provide clean water to several thousand Ugandans, prompting many in the region to refer to him as “Moses Ben.”
In 2009, Ben was redeployed, this time to Afghanistan, where he worked in a civil affairs unit performing work similar to what he had done in Uganda. On October 2, 2009, at age 32, he was killed by a suicide bomber while on foot patrol in in Kandahar province.
The loss of its visionary leader didn’t stop ClearWater. The organization says that:
Since Ben’s death, we have worked to fulfill his vision of compassion and hope for those whose lives are challenged by strife and uncertainty. Our goal has remained the same: to bring water and, ultimately, health and opportunity to those far less fortunate than we are, and in doing this, we have facilitated access to clean water for nearly 7,000 people. ClearWater Initiative is now a full-time operation with staff in the U.S. and Uganda. For our fifth anniversary year, we will implement 20 projects in hard-to-reach areas of northern Uganda. We are proud of all we have accomplished and know that Ben would be amazed to see how far ClearWater has come.
People who have been around Fletcher for a while haven’t forgotten Ben or his story, but he and ClearWater were brought back to my attention recently via a letter from ClearWater’s (volunteer) CEO (and Ben’s classmate), David Abraham ’03. About Ben, David wrote:
I admired him for his integrity, his respect for others and his decency that sprung from deep within. He was younger than me, but still would act as an older brother. He had a wisdom and also a vision of how he could make the world a better place, but never grandiose visions of curing the world of all its ills — just the part he touched. He searched for creative yet simple solutions to solve complex and seemingly intractable problems in remote parts of the globe. Inaction was anathema to Ben. While others talked, he acted.
Along the way, Ben’s Fletcher peers have stepped forward to support, many in a highly active way, his vision. David’s letter mentions classmates who volunteer as trustees, fundraisers, technical advisors, and overall enthusiastic supporters. The most recent newsletter highlights a Fletcher alum volunteering in Uganda. Finally, David goes on to say, “ClearWater is the embodiment of the Fletcher ethos, that through compassion, understanding and dialogue, we can make the world that much better. ClearWater is a piece of us all. And I hope you will continue to support us, and help forward Ben’s legacy.”
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