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Even with 1,100 Admissions Blog posts behind me, there are always topics I regret not having written about.  To correct for one of those omissions, I asked Hovhannes Nikoghosyan, a current student in the Tavitian Scholarship Program, to write about his experience.  Hovhannes and I were connected by blog friend Amy Tan, and Hovhannes graciously agreed to share information about his time at Fletcher.  I should note that this is the 15th year when Fletcher has hosted Tavitian Scholars and, as background, Hovhannes told me that all the participants in this special six-month program are Armenian government employees with a minimum of three years, and an average of six years, of professional experience, with prior graduate education.  They represent various government agencies, the Central Bank, and the President’s Administration.  This year, the class also includes a Member of Parliament.   Here is Hovhannes’s story.

Hovhannes Nikoghosyan Fletcher 2014It was a hot summer evening in Yerevan, late August 2013.  I was sipping an icy gin and tonic, when I received a call from Dr. Ara Barsam, who has been skillfully administering the application process for the Tavitian Scholarship Program for a number of years.  He was calling to tell me that I had been selected for the Class of 2014.  I don’t exactly remember the part of the conversation that followed the words, “I congratulate you,” (Sorry, Ara!), but after that lucky day I lived in anticipation of my Fletcher dream coming true.

The academic wonderland of the Fletcher School embraced all 15 students in the Class of 2014 as we landed at Boston Logan Airport and found ourselves in the caring hands of Dr. Joyce Barsam — the Vice President of the Tavitian Foundation — who supported us from our arrival in Boston and through the six months to follow.

Following a few days of jet lag recovery, and a few more days of orientation, classes started and we were injected into Fletcher life — I think with an even heavier curriculum than regular students experience.  With the program designed to offer coursework equivalent to a full academic year, Tavitian Scholars complete four or five classes every five weeks, each of them ending with a final exam — take-home or in-class — which puts extraordinary pressure on each student.

One of the strengths of the Tavitian Scholarship Program that I would highlight is that the fellows soon become knitted into the Fletcher Community, and experience the life of a typical student in a leading American university — anything from enjoying a fresh morning coffee in Mugar Café to finding ourselves in the library at 12:50 a.m., ten minutes before it closes.  True, the Tavitian groups are in their own classes, yet there is hardly any difference with regard to workload or grading system, including the professors showing no mercy for late exam submissions!  Also, group work and in-class activities create an atmosphere of academic exchange and interaction between the fellows themselves, which is enriching not only within the academic process, but far beyond it — creating the fabric of a future network throughout the public service in Armenia.  In classes, we observe that this is how a diplomat learns the basics of public finance, or how an economist learns the difference between the Cold War and “Game of Thrones,” or those small differences between a “House of Cards” plot and real-life political campaigning.

More seriously, through all the disciplines we are taught here, we learn to look at our local problems in perspective, which makes them seem smaller and not really unprecedented.  Rather than blaming Armenia’s geography or destiny, we learn to roll up our sleeves and meet the challenges.  And this is perhaps the greatest strength of the program, which was originally created more than a decade ago to support and educate tomorrow’s decision-makers in the Armenian government.

Extracurricular activities are where students may find additional value from their time in Boston.  Not only the Museum of Fine Arts or whale watching tours, but also auditing extra classes at Fletcher and other world-leading universities and schools in town are opportunities not to be missed.  As in previous years, most of our Class of 2014 has chosen to audit courses at Fletcher, MIT, and Harvard’s Kennedy, Business, and Law Schools.

Outside the classroom, I am exceptionally glad we succeeded in putting together a roundtable discussion on April 28, “In the Pursuit of Peace,” looking from an academic perspective at the 20-year-long peace process that has followed the ceasefire in Nagorno Karabakh.  The keynote speech by Nagorno Karabakh Republic Representative Robert Avetisyan, unparalleled and as-always-thought-provoking remarks by Professor Michael Glennon and Ambassador Rouben Shougarian — moderated by Professor Alan Henrikson and Associate Dean Deborah Nutter — have not only enriched our understanding of the smoldering conflict, but also benefited the wider Fletcher community.

As we are now approaching the end of our journey, the 2014 Tavitian Scholars thank The Fletcher School for maintaining and supporting our educational “moveable feast.”  Of course, all this would remain a distant dream for many of us without the true generosity of Mr. Aso Tavitian, who teaches perhaps the most important lesson to each of us — that offering opportunity to those who cannot afford it themselves is the ultimate form of humanitarianism, and I thank him for this lesson from the bottom of my Armenian heart.

Now, as we will graduate in a week, the life-long mission for each of us in the Class of 2014 resumes with greater responsibility:  to bring more good, and change, through our service to the Republic of Armenia.

 

After two lovely years of working with Roxanne, an amazing writer, I’m sad that her student blogger role is coming to an end.  Though I’m hopeful to include her thoughts in the Admissions Blog in the future, the focus will shift to her post-Fletcher activities.  Today, Roxanne shares her reflections on two years at Fletcher.

Roxanne graduationI remember reading the Admissions Blog from across the world and wanting to experience the buzz in Fletcher’s Hall of Flags that Jessica so frequently described.  It, therefore, feels surreal to sit at my desk at home — the same desk where I have typed so many words and formatted so many footnotes — to write my closing reflections on this chapter of my Fletcher education.  On May 18, I marched in Fletcher’s Commencement ceremonies and was once again moved by the love and care that run so deep in this community.  When I look back on two years at Fletcher, I will, indeed, remember compassion, kindness, and care — for the world and for each other. As I had promised Jessica, I would also like to take this opportunity to reflect on some of the other major themes and lessons that have punctuated my time at Fletcher.

  • Prepare to be humbled by your peers.  Professors, university leaders, staff, and guest speakers are all incredibly inspiring and will give you much to reflect on, but prepare for an immense amount of your learning to come from your peers.  Some of my fondest memories of learning and community alike at Fletcher have taken place in the company of what a friend has affectionately dubbed “the Ladies who Law.”  Choose your study groups well — those are the individuals who will help you make sense of econometrics or piece together the complex concepts of international law, and who will be entrusted with much of your collective learning.  Know that there will be times when you understand concepts less than your peers, and times when you will have to shoulder more of the work or be better prepared.  Treat your group work seriously and your peers with respect, and you will find yourself referencing their thoughts and insights just as much as you do those of your professors.
  • Advocate for what you care about.  I have always been drawn to the intersection of identities: conflict and humanitarian practitioner, scholar and activist.  Inhabiting the intersections can be challenging, and clarifying my role in conflict-affected settings requires demarcating how these different identities interact.  However, as a student, I was not prepared to cast any of the identities aside.  I came to Fletcher to study and learn, but when I noticed that there was an opportunity to think more creatively as an institution about inclusive security, diversity, and analysis of gender and power, I leaped at the chance to facilitate these conversations.  Looking back, I cherish the formation, advocacy, and momentum of the Gender Initiative at Fletcher and cannot imagine my time here without channeling my energy towards it.  Advocating for what I (and many others!) cared about was not required for my courses.  It was not an extra-curricular activity, per se.  At the same time, it felt essential to me and it aligned my personal values, professional experience, and sense of what I wanted to give to this community.  When you see opportunities to reflect on Fletcher as an institution, and to do so collaboratively and constructively, don’t shy away from them.
  • Say yes. In an earlier post with advice to incoming students, I had suggested that you think about what you hope to accomplish at Fletcher prior to arriving.  In this post, I suggest carving out some room for surprise.  Try a class that is outside your field of expertise — just because it’s interesting, or because you want to learn from that particular professor, or just because you’re curious.  Attend a talk that you don’t think is for you.  Sign up to learn to dance salsa for the Culture Nights — even if you’ve never danced before.  Some of the best learning takes place when you say yes and open yourself up to vulnerability, surprise, and the opportunity to be a novice again.

I am not quite ready to leave Fletcher — but perhaps that is a testament to the community itself: Fletcher inspires in all of us a constant desire to learn, challenge ourselves, and strive — and, at the same time, it sparks such an investment in our shared bonds that we are reluctant to leave the place and its people behind.  Graduation has, however, catapulted us into the world and I am looking forward to watching these relationships evolve and reconfigure and to being part of our continued, shared learning.  I promise to come visit on the Admissions Blog as an alumna from time to time — until then, thank you for reading, and have a wonderful summer!

The "Ladies who Law," ready to graduate.

Some of the “Ladies who Law,” ready to graduate.

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Some students had the great idea to create a map indicating where they’ll be for the summer.  That way, if other students happen to be visiting Rome (for example), they can see who’s there for an internship.  Here’s the map:

Internship map

The list includes some interesting summer work, such as “reporting on the crisis in Syria for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser,” and “Brand Ambassador for Fireball Whiskey Sales & Distribution, Sazerac Company.”

And students will be in A LOT of interesting and distant locations, including:

Abuja, Nigeria
Mercy Corps
TY Danjuma Foundation

Amman, Jordan
UNRWA
Wamda Research Lab
Migrate MENA

Monrovia, Liberia
USAID
Mercy Corps

Valletta, Malta
Political Section at the U.S. Embassy

Yangon, Myanmar
FIDP (Frontier Investment and Development Partners)
UNOPS

But the biggest Fletcher crowds this summer will be found in New York at (among other organizations):
United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs
Frog Design
International Rescue Committee
Center for Human Rights and Global Justice
United Nations Department for Peacekeeping Operations
Federal Reserve Bank of NY
NYC Department of Education
Olam International

and Washington, DC:
U.S. Dept of State (many!)
Hudson Institute
House Committee on Ways and Means
Humanity in Action Fellowship
Albright Stonebridge Group
U.S. Dept of Treasury
The Cohen Group

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Despite our summer loneliness in a quiet Fletcher, I still have a few stories and updates from students to share.  Emerson Tuttle completed his Fletcher studies in the one-year MA program in 2013, but he is still in the community as he finishes a degree in veterinary medicine.  While we often say that no two students pursue the same courses at Fletcher, Emerson has a far stronger claim to uniqueness.  He’s sufficiently unusual that the University’s media folks featured his story in a recent newsletter.  Here is how Emerson reflects on his Fletcher experience.

As a former MA candidate from the class of 2013, my path to Fletcher was definitively atypical, as are my current pursuits.  However, my experience in Medford was one that parallels that of all other Fletcher students in that it included rigorous academic challenges, exposure to a broad range of cultural perspectives, and the development of close bonds to mentors, future colleagues, and life-long friends.

I am a current combined degree student at Tufts with one more year remaining in the curriculum at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine (TCSVM) prior to graduating in the spring of 2015 with both a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) and a Fletcher degree.  I applied to TCSVM, in hopes of pursuing this underutilized combined program, after investigating the career possibilities available to a veterinarian with a background in international policy.  Included in these career paths are veterinarians who work in public health, pandemic preparedness and mitigation, international disease control and trade policy, as well as international development.

Emerson

“I’m the person on the right completing an ovariohysterectomy procedure (spay) on a dog, with instruction from Dr. Philip Allen [on the left making the hand gestures].” Photo by Andrew Cunningham, Cummings School Director of Media Services.

After spending a summer in Ethiopia researching the effects of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) — the most economically devastating animal disease on the planet that remains endemic in many developing nations — I embarked on a year of study at Fletcher.  My aim was to hone my theoretical and analytical abilities in regards to environmental policy, international development, policy analysis, and international trade.  Given the breadth of the Fletcher course offerings, two short semesters were hardly enough to absorb all of the potential knowledge the curriculum has to offer, but it was sufficient to open my eyes to new ways of thinking and communicating, and to potential solutions to complex global issues.

For those whose connection to the veterinary profession is limited to bringing pets to their local small animal practitioner, understanding the connection between an international policy degree and the study of animal disease may be difficult.  I was concerned that this would make my time at Fletcher challenging, in that I’d need to prove myself to relative experts in the field of international relations.  With a BA in biology, my mind had been programmed to think in natural processes, ecosystems, and physiology, rather than law, economics, and diplomacy.  I was pleasantly surprised when my classmates were able to grasp the connection between my degrees almost instantly, and welcomed me into what was a foreign environment for my scientific mind.  Professors similarly welcomed me into their classrooms with an interest in how their knowledge could augment my own to develop an optimal learning experience for a non-traditional student (if one can say that there even is such a thing at Fletcher).  Needless to say, the respect in which I hold classmates and professors alike is unparalleled.

My experiences at both TCSVM and Fletcher helped me secure a temporary position at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations during the summer immediately after my year at Fletcher.  There I delved further into FMD control, albeit from an office in Rome as opposed to on the ground in Addis Ababa.  The skills and perspective I gained from my studies at Fletcher allowed me to view veterinary questions through a unique lens, one that lent clarity to the socioeconomic issues generating the complex environment in which disease circulates.  My work at the FAO gave me the opportunity to see how veterinarians are actively shaping international policies and regulations to mitigate the spread of infectious animal diseases worldwide, and one day I hope to do the same.

I write this post as I prepare myself for a difficult, yet extremely rewarding 15 months of clinical training at TCSVM.  My brain has had to shift back to identifying clinical signs and differential diagnoses, as opposed to economic trends and points through which to exert effective policy action.  Though the inside of an operating room is currently more familiar to me than the halls of Fletcher, the memories and experiences I carry with me from my time there will continue to open doors for me in the future, and will also continue to shape my life and professional career for the better.

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The Spring 2014 issue of the Fletcher Security Review can now be found online.  This is the first full issue for the publication, which was launched only last fall and has been building content ever since.  Here’s the introduction that the editor, Haider Mullick, a Fletcher PhD candidate, shared with the community:

FSWWe are delighted to introduce our Spring 2014 issue!

Managed and edited by students at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, the Fletcher Security Review builds on the School’s strong traditions of combining scholarship with practice, fostering close interdisciplinary collaboration, and acting as a vehicle for groundbreaking discussion of international security.  We believe that by leveraging these strengths – seeking input from established and up-and-coming scholars, practitioners, and analysts from around the world on topics deserving greater attention – we can promote genuinely unique ways of looking at the future of security.

Each issue of FSR is centered around a broad theme.  In this issue, we chose to revisit the rich topic of “Proxy War.”  This volume explores the wide variety of ways in which international relations scholars and practitioners define, and understand the role of, proxies.  Our contributors consider “traditional” great power conflicts as well as examine the murky and misunderstood impact of sub-national actors such as Mexico’s cartels, Africa’s failing state watchmen and/or predators, and transnational jihadist groups.  They encourage us to learn from the proxy conflicts of the past, and they explore the future in their examination of the laws of war and their relevance to cyber clashes.

Also looking to the future of security are two renowned leaders in the field of security praxis.  David H. Petraeus discusses the importance of North American cooperation to minimize the impact of global insecurity, and Frances Townsend highlights, in her eyes, the reasons for America’s decline.

To learn more about Fletcher Security Review, you can contact the editors, or see what they and others are saying via FSR’s Twitter feed.

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On Saturday I heard about something worth sharing.  A current Fletcher student and Admissions volunteer, Deepti, is currently helping out our friends at Educate Lanka, the Sri Lanka-based non-profit headed by Manjula Dissanayake F’12.  Here we see Deepti on a panel with other volunteers and in-country staff, interviewing a new batch of Educate Lanka scholars.  I need to investigate more — I hadn’t heard that Deepti would be in Sri Lanka this summer.  Until I get all the details, here’s the photo, with Deepti in the middle on the left.

Deepti, 2

 

Despite the overall post-Commencement feel that has fallen upon Fletcher this week, I’ve been fortunate to connect with a few students as they spent their last minutes here before taking off for new adventures.  Of those, several are days away from a flight to a distant locale.  Others won’t start said adventures until later in the summer, giving them a nice hiatus — free of both coursework and career searching.  And some will be pursuing adventures in the Boston area, meaning we don’t need to say farewell yet.

Nonetheless, the graduation tents have been dismantled one-by-one, and the first of the summer construction teams have moved in.  Fletcher will undergo some relatively minor repairs and renovation, but even minor repairs mean that the Office of Career Services is currently working out of Blakeley Hall.

Symeon and the deanInto the mix came this sweet photo of Dean Stavridis, Symeon Tegos, and Erietta (tiniest graduate) Tegos.  Symeon tells me that Erietta is only two and a half months old.  (Aww!  So sweet!)  Her dad was in the one-year MA program, surely making this a year to remember for their family.  In fact, in an email to Dean Stavridis that circled around to me, Symeon wrote:

This was an incredible year.  The birth of my daughter changed me in ways I considered impossible only weeks ago, while the exposure to Fletcher had an unexpected profound effect on me.  I have to express my gratitude for this amazing experience.  Soon I will be heading back home where I will do my best to give back what I so generously received.  I will never forget Fletcher and your example.

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Commencement may have passed, but I’m still receiving a few long-promised posts from students and newly-minted alumni.  In the category of “Cool Stuff Students Do” comes this description of a new initiative, the Human Rights Practicum. 

Amy Tan and Luca UrechHi Admissions Blog readers!  We, Amy Tan (MALD 2014) and Luca Urech (MALD 2014), are here to tell you a little bit about human rights activities at Fletcher.  For about a year, we have been co-presidents of the Human Rights Project, Fletcher’s student human rights group, and we used our time here at Fletcher to launch a new initiative called the Human Rights Practicum.  To provide you with information about the Practicum, we thought to share a short Q&A.  If you have follow-up questions, we are happy to continue the conversation in the Blog’s comment section!

What is the Human Rights Practicum?

The Human Rights Practicum is a platform at Fletcher through which students can work with human rights practitioners on substantive, live projects.  The Practicum complements the Fletcher student experience with a strong practical component in the field of human rights.  The Practicum has grown since its establishment in September 2013, and currently consists of five different projects.  In these projects, more than a dozen Fletcher students are working under the supervision of three law professors (Professors Louis Aucoin, John Cerone, and Hurst Hannum) on topics ranging from crafting a policy paper on R2P and Syria for a Geneva-based NGO, to conducting ongoing research on the Universal Periodic Review for the United Nations Special Rapporteur on minority issues.

Where did the Human Rights Practicum come from?

We might be biased here, but we believe that Fletcher students offer a wealth of experience, expertise, and enthusiasm to make a human rights impact that we considered to be a source of great untapped potential.  With this in mind, during the summer of 2013, while Amy was at The Hague Institute for Global Justice in The Netherlands and Luca was with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Tunisia, we put together a concept note for an initiative that would leverage Fletcher’s skills and energy for human rights impact. We sent the note to our professors and they were immediately supportive, offering their guidance and their contacts to set up projects with students.

What is the Practicum up to now?

As the spring semester here at Fletcher came to an end, our student teams also finished up their Practicum projects.  While polishing reports and doing final research, everyone here was already looking forward to seeing the impact that their work will have.  The Special Rapporteur on minority issues, for example, will transmit the research to which the Fletcher students contributed to the Member States of the UN Human Rights Council and has found significant state interest in the work.  Another project partner will leverage a report analyzing transitional justice issues produced by Fletcher students as a basis to lobby policymakers in Washington D.C.  It is satisfying to see our work transcending the world of academia and making a real-impact in politics and diplomacy.

What is the future of the Practicum?

As we have just graduated from Fletcher, we have looked for motivated first-year students who can ensure the continuation of the Practicum.  Fortunately, three very dedicated students, Kathryn Joyce, Roxana Mullafiroze, and Sarah Collman (all MALD 2015 and former Practicum participants), have stepped up to the plate to continue providing Fletcher students with exciting opportunities to engage in human rights work.  At the same time, we have worked closely with the School’s administration to develop a plan that would allow the Practicum to become an important part of what we do at Fletcher.  We hope that by building on the foundation established this year, the Practicum will continue to prosper and become an integral part of the Fletcher experience for students interested in human rights.

HRP Group Photo

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I spent a lot of time on campus this weekend, enjoying Commencement and Reunion activities.  On Saturday, I turned up at about 11:00 and greeted a few students who were waiting for the Class Day activities to begin.  I was sorry not to join them for the day’s speakers, but I was on my way to a panel on life and careers after Fletcher, offered and attended by alumni from the classes of 1989, 1994, and 1999.  I had gone (accompanied by my husband, Paul) to see our friend Charlie Scott F’94, who has recently reinvented himself as the Family Adventure Guy.  As it turns out, the panel discussion featured not only his presentation, but also those of three other alums, including the ambassador to the U.S. from Thailand.  (Ambassador Isarabhakdi said he had wanted to attend Fletcher since he was a young teen.  That’s direction!)  The panel took place on the 7th floor of the Cabot Intercultural Center (one of three attached Fletcher buildings).  The University is on a hill, giving us a nice view from the 7th floor of both the campus and the city beyond.

View from 7F
All the different Commencement venues were set and ready for events, including the thousands of chairs on the quad.

Quad

The next day was the main event.  I came up to campus at about 10:45, by which time Fletcher students were streaming across the street from the all-University ceremony (where, the dean noted, they were a noisy bunch — see photo #19 in the photo gallery) to the Fletcher graduation.  At about 11:10, two things were going on.  First, a photographer was attempting to wrangle the faculty into a shot.

Faculty

At the same time, the Registrar’s staff (and any of us who had offered to help) started herding the graduates into Blakeley Hall courtyard, where they would line up for their procession.

Courtyard
Eventually, everyone was in the graduation tent, and Dean Stavridis could kick off the ceremony.

Dean

Prof. Moomaw, who yesterday became professor emeritus, reflected on his career and experience at Fletcher.

Moomaw

And then came the student speakers, Amy

Amy

and Bob

Prof Moomaw
Both of their speeches were terrific, but Amy scored points with me by mentioning the Admissions Blog!  By the end of the ceremony yesterday, speakers had, interestingly, quoted Robert Frost, John Steinbeck, and William Faulkner — not the usual cast of characters for a Fletcher graduation.

Finally, degrees were awarded.  Some students invited their children to join them.  The award for tiniest diploma recipient (in academic regalia) goes to this tiny tot:

Baby grad

And then it was done!  For me, Commencement is an opportunity to celebrate students I have come to know, as well as remind myself of people with whom I was in contact before they enrolled.  (Ohhhh!  I interviewed her, but totally forgot she was in this class….)  For the 310 students who graduated, it was two beautiful blue-skied days, and many, many happy family members.  A day for all to remember!

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When I think of Fletcher without all of our graduating students, it fills me with panic.  What will the School be like without them?  What will the Admissions Office do without Juanita and Ayako?  Who will be my Information Session partner when Hanneke is gone?  And how can Daniel, who stayed connected to the Office even when he took a job elsewhere, move on?  And Mirza and Roxanne and Scott!  And interviewers, such as Kevin and Stéphane, Trisha and Eirik, who brightened our days when they arrived for an interview!  There are so many people who, for the past two years, have participated in the daily or weekly rhythms of our work lives, and it’s impossible to imagine life without them.

And yet, imagine we must.  They’re on their way to something wonderful, carrying Fletcher’s mark wherever they go.  We’ll miss them!  But the whole idea behind admitting them to Fletcher in the first place is that they’ll soon leave.  We’ll just need to adjust to their absence.

Adjusting is made easier by the fact that Fletcher students make their mark on the School and its staff, too.  They create new clubs or activities, set a new high standard for constituency service on the Student Council (Nihal!), or broaden the perspective of the Admissions Committee.  Once, not so long ago, there were no Los Fletcheros and there was no community ski trip.  Now incoming students contact Admissions for the dates of the ski trip (about which we have no advance knowledge, I should add).  The creators of those activities made their mark on the community, and they remain part of Fletcher as a result.

The reality is that we staff members don’t see most students daily, but it’s a day’s highlight to run into someone and get a quick update.  And whether we see certain students or not, we know they’re out there.  We see the conference agendas that include their names; we read their emails to the community.  And then, when we feel we’re still only getting to know them, off they go into the world.

This year’s graduating class includes some of my favorite ever students.  Every year’s graduating class includes some of my favorite ever students.  Interacting with these wonderful people, and contributing in some very small way to the launch of their new careers, is the most satisfying aspect of my work.  As a result, Commencement is truly a bittersweet event.  It’s best to focus on the sweetness, made easier by the knowledge that the first-year students will now be the second-year students, and new first-years are on their way.

So, to all of this year’s MALD, MIB, MA, LLM, and PhD graduates:  Congratulations!  Thank you for everything you have done for Fletcher, inside or outside of the classroom!  We’ll miss you — please stay in touch!  We want to hear about all you do!

 

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