Sanford’s 40th Undergraduate Class Honored, Grad Students Advised to Follow ‘True North’

The Sanford School of Public Policy graduation ceremonies on May 10 recognized the 40th class of public policy majors at Duke. In 1974, the school was called the Institute of Policy Sciences and Public Affairs and its first class numbered seven graduates. This year, 189 students received diplomas and 29, a record number, completed an honors thesis to graduate with distinction.

A second ceremony honored 76 Master of Public Policy (MPP), 51 Master of International Development Policy (MIDP) from 21 countries and three PhD graduates.

Professor Kelly Brownell presided over both ceremonies for the first time as dean. He recognized Professor Joel Fleishman as the founding director of the policy program that became the Sanford School.

For the first time, four undergraduates earned the Joel Fleishman Distinguished Scholar Award. Michelle Christine Burrows, Li-Kuang Chen, Marissa Weil Medine and Hong Zhu each had a 4.0 grade point average. Carolina Michelle Jacobs won Best Honors Thesis for “Stewart vs. Colbert: How Satirical Coverage of the 2012 Presidential Election Affected College Students.” Her research found that watching political satire does increase engagement in the political process and can change perceptions of the candidates.

The Terry Sanford Leadership Award was given to Andrew Leon Hanna, who served as both the sophomore and senior class president, was a Robertson Scholar and founded IGNITE Peer Mentoring, which pairs college and high school students in North Carolina and Florida. He also represented American Youth at the UNESCO Youth Forum in Paris. Hanna will work at the White House this summer in the office of the vice president and will attend Stanford Graduate School of Business.

The Susan Tifft Teaching and Mentoring Award went to co-director of the Hart Leadership Program Alma Blount. In their nominations, students described her as “fierce, passionate, not afraid to be tough,” and said, “if I could take seven more classes with her, I would.”

Rob Schwenke received his diploma wearing a blue cape with a large white D on the back. It was the cape he wore for the past three years as the Blue Devil mascot at Duke athletic events.

The undergraduate student speaker was Joy Liu, who earned a double major in public policy and biology, and will work this summer at the Duke Singapore Medical School. She spoke about a class experience in which a student dismissed as unimportant an op-ed critical of the closure of the North Carolina School for the Blind, to general laughter.

“I, who knew this school, did not speak up,” she said. “I let the moment pass.” Policy decisions are frequently made for people who are not in the room, who depend upon those who have listened to be their voice. ‘When the moment comes, make Duke proud, make Sanford proud,” she urged, and speak up for people who are not able to speak for themselves.

Graduate Hooding Ceremony

The alumnus speaker for the graduate student ceremonies was Daniel Werfel JD, MPP’97. Werfel recalled the speech made at his own MPP graduation by the late Professor Dick Stubbing, in which he assigned students roles in a hypothetical White House crisis response team. Werfel was cast as a lawyer summoned by the chief of staff to give a quick analysis of the legal situation. In May of last year, 16 years after that speech, a similar scene played out in real life. Werfel was summoned by the chief of staff and asked by President Obama to take over as acting commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service when the agency was under heavy criticism.

“I was a behind-the-scenes guy,” who by the end of that day was being talked about on every news network. The advice that helped him through the months of Congressional testimony and the public spotlight was, “remember who you are and what your job is.” As experts trained in analysis, their job is to rely on credible evidence to make management recommendations, he said. He advised graduates to find their “true north” and check in with that fundamental mission whenever they feel they are losing their bearings.

The MIDP student speaker, Smriti Sharma, urged her fellow graduates to claim “the champion inside” that led them to interrupt careers and pursue a degree. Speaking in the 17 different languages used by her classmates, she thanked them for the inspiration and shared work on assignments.

Alyssa Chudnofsky, MPP student speaker, delivered more light-hearted remarks, and began by addressing the people who don’t understand what the MPP degree is about: “Grandma, I’m talking to you.” She mentioned moments that will stay with her, including failing her first statistics exam – “it was all in Greek” – and the support she received from her professor after that stumble.

Danice Brown and Ryan Smith were honored as Outstanding MPP Students at a separate ceremony on May 9. The award recognizes students for excellent academic performance and significant contributions to the intellectual and professional vitality of the school.

Three Ph.D. candidates received their doctorates and were hooded by their faculty advisors: Katherine H. Duch, advised by Professor Seth G. Sanders; Catherine Elizabeth Herrold, advised by Associate Professor Kristin Goss, and Sara Tova Pilzer Weiss, advised by Professor Helen Ladd. Duch is a senior analyst at the Analyst Institute; Herrold is assistant professor of Philanthropic Studies at Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy; and Weiss is a research scholar at The William and Ida Friday Institute for Educational Innovation.