Brown School Graduates: Don’t Just Bring a Chair, Dismantle the Table

Alumni; Faculty; PhD; Public Health; Social Work; Students

On May 16, 2019, more than 300 Brown School graduates—focused on impact in social work, public health and social policy—were honored at the School’s recognition ceremony.

The graduates and their guests were addressed by three speakers, national radio personality and civil rights activist, Joe Madison; MPH candidate, Aishwarya Nagar; and Missouri State Representative and MPH alumna, Cora Faith Walker.  

Joe Madison hosts a weekday morning radio program on Sirius XM’s Urban View, and is an alumnus of Washington University. In his remarks, he acknowledged the 400th anniversary of Black people arriving on the shores of the United States. Graduates were given buttons to honor this anniversary and the university’s trilogy of “400 Years Plus” reflective events that continue through November. 

He also told graduates that they must always remember those who have gone before them. 

“May they always inspire you with their vision and their valor, may their lives continuously remind each and every one of you that service is more important that success, that people are more important than possessions, and most important of all, that principle is more important than power.”

Graduate Aishwarya Nagar was selected to address her peers due to her sense of community and powerful commitment to her public health scholarship. The theme of her speech, “Four Reasons Why the Brown School is Worth It,” reflected her time as an Office of Admissions Student Ambassador, and the questions she would field from unsure prospective students. 

Aishwarya told the crowd that the Brown School had allowed her to bring her whole self to the table, to learn and think outside the box, to understand what advocacy looks like, and had provided transformative mentors and friendships. 

“If you had told me that I would leave the Brown School with amazing mentors …  I would not have believed you,” said Aishwarya, referencing faculty members Lora Iannotti and Jessica Levy, and Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs Danielle Bristow.

“It has been an honor to have friends here to fight for you and help you see your own worth when you don’t see it yourself.” 

The remarks of Missouri State Representative Cora Faith Walker, a member of the first MPH cohort speaking at the ceremony, were particularly poignant as the MPH program celebrated its 10th anniversary this year and saw its 500th graduate walk across the stage. 

She gave graduates some advice for tackling the world’s challenges: Be bold. Be fearless. Be you. 

She spoke about one of her idols, the first Black congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, who said:  “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring in a folding chair.”

But Walker went a step further, telling grads “many of those challenges that you are trying to tackle don’t just require you to just bring in a folding chair, they require you to dismantle the table entirely.”

The event’s closing speaker, Neidorff Family and Centene Corporation Dean Mary M. McKay, referenced her own status as a first generation college student, and acknowledged that many students might have at one point asked themselves: “What have I done? Do I belong here? What difference can I make?”

She told the graduates:  

“I want to express my complete confidence in you. You have every strength, skill and tool needed to sort out how to make this world a better place by bringing who you are, what you know, and guided by the values of justice you can repair and advance us.”

“You are going to muster the courage to do the daily work — to try to do what’s right, to strive to make decisions, to advance equity, to listen to those who powerfully dissent, to be open to learning, growing, making small and large mistakes to get to where you, and this world, need to be.”

View the Brown School Recognition Ceremony here

View the album of Commencement images via Facebook.