Penn State School of International Affairs Class of 2019. Front row: SIA faculty and staff. IMAGE: Steve Tressler
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – The Penn State School of International Affairs celebrated the accomplishments of its 2019 spring and summer graduates with a Graduation Recognition Ceremony on Sunday, May 5, at the Lewis Katz Building. More than 300 friends and family members packed the auditorium beyond capacity to help support and honor the graduates.
This year’s graduating cohort is the largest in SIA’s 10-year history: 39 May graduates, including two students in the joint MIA/J.D. program in conjunction with Penn State Law in University Park, and eight additional students who will complete their degree requirements this summer.
Exemplifying the global nature of SIA, the class comprises residents of seven countries: Cameroon, China, India, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, and the United States, as well as U.S. permanent residents originally from India, Iran, Liberia, and Nigeria. More than 50 percent of the class participated in an education abroad experience—including summer, semester, and/or short-term faculty-led international programs—and 24 students completed an internship abroad. Those studying abroad journeyed to Argentina, China, England, Jordan, the Netherlands, Peru, and Senegal.
Hari M. Osofsky, dean of SIA and Penn State Law, noted in the ceremony’s opening remarks that this year’s graduates are entering an evolving professional field and will have the opportunity to help reshape the future of international affairs.
“In this moment of profound social change, in which technology, globalization, and the need for cross-cutting knowledge are foundationally changing the world of international affairs, I am really excited that you’re going to be the next generation of leaders in this field,” Osofsky said.
Through their impressive achievements and humanitarian inclinations, this year’s class has already taken initial steps toward becoming effective leaders.
“This class is known for its desire to contribute to the larger community,” said Scott Gartner, SIA director and professor of international affairs. Speaking directly to the graduates, he added, “Your class has demonstrated that you can help move this nation and the world forward. As alumni of the School of International Affairs, you will join a distinguished group of civic and business leaders, Foreign Service officers, human rights advocates, military officers, national security agents, Peace Corps volunteers, community organizers, academic scholars, among countless other professions.”
SIA Director Scott Gartner, student speaker Matthew Fully, Dean Hari Osofsky, and special guest Penn State Trustee Emerita Anne Riley helped lead the Alma Mater to close the ceremony. IMAGE: Steve Tressler
One of the highlights of the ceremony was Matthew Fully, who was selected to represent his fellow graduates as this year’s student speaker. Fully shared with the audience details about his personal journey and the obstacles he faced, and overcame, in order to reach this point.
Born in Liberia in the midst of the country’s civil war, Fully lost his father when he was just 5 months old. Growing up in an environment permeated with threat and uncertainty, Fully did not complete kindergarten until age 10 and was a refugee by age 13, living in Guinea, West Africa.
“Personally, my presence at Penn State and on this stage today was improbable,” he said.
“My daily thoughts were occupied with survival. While my peers were playing video games, I was likely dodging bullets. While my peers were in school learning about science and technology, I was likely being taught how to survive during a rebel attack.”
Graduate Matthew Fully was selected as the student speaker for this year's recognition ceremony. IMAGE: Steve Tressler
Fully credited his mother for having the strength to raise him without a father and help him achieve his goals despite the difficult circumstances of his childhood.
He finished his speech by directly addressing his fellow graduates, encouraging them to embrace their roles as future leaders on a global stage.
“I’m encouraging us all to go out there and help make the world better for everyone by building better institutions that will aid in the realization of sustainable development goals, mitigate corruption, alleviate terrorism, downsize global conflicts, and more,” he said to his peers. “As graduates of the outstanding Penn State School of International Affairs, we are equipped to make policies that are aimed at accomplishing these goals. Let us go out into the world in these challenging times and be agents of change.”
The SIA Class of 2019 includes 39 May graduates and eight summer graduates. IMAGE: Steve Tressler
After each student had the opportunity to walk across the stage, shaking hands with Dean Osofsky and Director Gartner and receiving a special gift, Gartner announced the recipients of student awards and special recognition.
Tanner Copeland earned the 2019 Academic Achievement Award. Maintaining a 4.0 GPA while completing his concentration in Chinese political and economic relations, Copeland studied abroad in Shanghai during his second year in the master’s program. While in Shanghai, he enrolled in language and elective courses and completed an internship at Meet U Go. Copeland has already begun a full-time position as a project management consultant.
Additional recognition was given to graduating members of the Student Government Association and the inaugural class of SIA Peer Mentors.
SIA graduates (left to right) Tony Hudson, Kristle Richardson, Asih Juwariyah, and Shumaila Fatima sing the Penn State Alma Mater along with the other graduates and audience members. IMAGE: Steve Tressler
With their master’s degrees completed and graduation behind them, the next chapter for spring 2019 graduates begins now and will take them along different paths, including full-time positions and internships in the United States and abroad in the areas of military, defense, national security, business, politics, and education, and plans for further education through law school and Ph.D. programs.
No matter where their careers take them, SIA graduates will remain part of the Penn State and SIA family.
“Our commitment to you does not end today,” Gartner said to the graduates. “The nature of it changes today, but the commitment does not end. We hope that as you move along in your international career and other paths, that you look to SIA for support and guidance, because we want to partner with you on your journey,”