Graduates of the Cornell Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy celebrate on the Bailey Hall steps. This was the first commencement for the school and it was highlighted by a speech by Dean Colleen L. Barry. 

First Brooks graduates honored: “You will always hold a special place in the history of our school”

The Cornell Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy celebrated its inaugural graduating class on May 28. The 224-member Class of 2022 was urged by Dean Colleen L. Barry to “make the world a better place” as they share a unique distinction: “As our first graduating class of the Brooks School, you will always hold a special place in the history of our School and the University.”

The events began with a morning procession from the Arts Quad to Schoellkopf Field behind the newly created Brooks symbol banner (a representation of the Earth held aloft by human hands).

Chelsea Chen ’22 carried the symbol banner. Matthew Sheen ’22 and Krishna Kandala MPH ’22 carried the school’s name banner and Jillion Pion ’22 and Andrew Wen MPA ’22 served as degree marshals.

On the Schoellkopf Field stage, Barry joined Cornell President Martha Pollack in saluting the Brooks graduates. They were all sporting the traditional peacock blue tassel favored by public affairs graduates at universities nationwide.

Then, after a catered lunch on the Bailey Hall Plaza, it was time for the Brooks School ceremony. Faculty created a joyful gauntlet on the Bailey steps and the graduates processed into the historic hall.

Senior Associate Dean of Academic Affairs Maria Fitzpatrick welcomed the graduates and nearly 1,000 of their friends and family members: “We are gathered to celebrate the achievements, success, and bright futures of our Brooks School graduates from the Class of 2022.”

Fitzpatrick introduced the inaugural recipients of the school’s highest academic achievement and leadership honor, the John Siliciano Award:

  • Omotoyosi Ibukunoluwa Ayanwola ’22, a health care policy major.
  • Craig Spencer Schulman ’22, a policy analysis and management major.
  • Jefferson Akers, MHA ’22, a graduate of the Sloan Program in Health Administration.
  • Andrew Siyan Wen MPA ’22, a graduate of the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs (CIPA).

In her remarks, Barry thanked Jeb Brooks and Cherie Wendelken for “their incredible philanthropic support” to name the school. She also thanked Pollack, Provost Michael Kotlikoff and other university leaders who contributed to the launch of a school “more than 40 years in the making.”

After urging the graduates to “loudly” applaud for their proud parents, families and friends, Barry noted the many people who help students succeed at Cornell: “Let me thank your faculty, your program directors, your advisors and our incredibly talented staff who have dedicated themselves to supporting you, to thrive in your studies and to position you to make a difference in the world through your careers.”

Referencing the pandemic and the challenge of earning a Cornell degree in routine circumstances, Barry said, “You have displayed fortitude in the face of virtual classrooms, social isolation, illness and – for some of us – in the face of painful loss. As we continue to struggle as a global society to turn the corner on the pandemic, we find that our society is a bit more frayed. By any measure, polarization has increased. We are more challenged than in the past to find pathways to civil discourse. The world around you may well feel more foreboding now that it ever has. I hope that your years at Cornell have brought you knowledge, skills, determination, grace, and a good measure of courage to meet the complex challenges of the world that you are graduating into.”

Barry drew a parallel between the “creative forces” that influence the start-up of the Brooks School and the pursuit of careers or academic goals. “Approaching your life with a start-up mentality means leaning into your own creativity, your power to make it up as you go, but with an eye toward building something that will be truly extraordinary and enduring,” she said. “With a start-up mentality, I believe that each of you will have the power to do what you always planned to with your careers but with greater impact. You do more to improve people’s lives; do more to reduce suffering in the world; do more to make our world a more equitable, more prosperous, and healthier place.”

Barry drew an analogy between the circular nature of the unique and beautiful Bailey Hall and the circular nature of our lives, how start-ups rarely progress in a straight line. She ended her remarks by encouraging graduates to “come around again.”

“Cornell and the Brooks School will always be your home…come back to Bailey Hall at some point and stand alone in the empty building and remember your graduation day – what it took to get here, what you accomplished while you were here. And how you have used your Cornell degree to make the world a better place. Feel proud of yourself. And know that we are all very proud of you – the first Brooks School Class, the Class of 2022.”

Each graduate was then called by name and walked across the Bailey stage to be congratulated by Barry and to pause for a photo. Director of Undergraduate Studies Sharon Sassler read the names of the undergraduates earning health policy and policy analysis and management degrees. Director of the Sloan Program in Health Administration Sean Nicholson, CIPA Director Matthew Hall and Fitzpatrick (on behalf of Director of Graduate Studies Laura Tach) announced the MHA, MPA and PhD recipients, respectively.

The class then went back to the Bailey Hall Plaza for a champagne toast and a class photo, punctuated by an exuberant toss of caps into the air, peacock blue tassels flying.

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