Student speakers take center stage at Brown’s Commencement

George Kubai and Siddhi Nadkarni, Brown’s undergraduate student orators, encouraged classmates to work toward a better and more equitable future for themselves and those around them.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — In keeping with Brown’s tradition of elevating student voices during Commencement, two Class of 2021 graduates, George Kubai and Siddhi Nadkarni, delivered rousing keynote orations during twin College Ceremonies held Sunday, May 2, on the College Green. 

Kubai began his remarks with the story of a young boy who grew up in an impoverished village. Following the death of his father, the boy’s mother made her way to the U.S. in search of a new life for her family. But instead of finding a “land of opportunity,” the boy’s mother found an immigration system that threatened to deport her and eventually imprisoned her. She found herself in a land where she must teach her boy to never to wear a hoodie and keep his hands where they could be seen, “lest the wrong move leave him laying on a sidewalk.” 

Still, the boy managed to overcome these and other obstacles to earn an engineering degree from an Ivy League institution. 

“At this point in the story, I will tell you that this little boy is me,” Kubai said. “But not so that we could delight in a Black success story or hold on to the hope that a rose can grow out of concrete. But rather to urge us to dream, to dream of a world where black success is not an anomaly — where the story of black success is not overcoming excruciating odds at every turn.”

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Dare to Dream

 

Class of 2021 graduate George Kubai, a biomedical engineering concentrator, addressed his fellow graduates on Sunday, May 2.

Dreaming, Kubai continued, can be an “intimate act of resistance,” which cannot be taken away even when the world conspires to rob people of their rights, their autonomy or even their humanity.

“Dream immigrant child. Dream Black girl. Dream Black boy. Dream all of you who are wondering when things will change. Dream all of you who are fighting generational trauma. Dream you who lost your father. Dream you aspiring politician. Dream future doctor. Dream writer. Dream artist. Dream Class of 2021. Our dreams will usher change into this world because our lives depend on them.”

While pursuing his degree in biomedical engineering at Brown, Kubai was a leader in efforts to help others realize their own dreams. He served as vice president of the Brown chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers, an organization that supports people of color in engineering and other STEM fields. He was also active in Black Christian Ministries, a student group that helps people grow in their faith. 

Kubai urged his classmates to dream bigger than themselves and work to bring those dreams into reality. 

“So I’ll leave you with a question, 2021: What will the world look like because you have chosen to dream?”

Siddhi Nadkarni, a health and human biology concentrator, thanked her classmates for the work they’ve already done to bring positive change, whether reforming long-established systems or pressing for solutions on everything from campus issues to connections to the Providence community to sexual violence to racism in America.

“To my classmates who are using their voices to shed light on racial injustice, especially in the wake of the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Daunte Wright, Ma’Khia Bryant, and many others, thank you,” Nadkarni said. “To my classmates who are raising awareness about violence against Asian Americans in our own community and beyond, thank you.”

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From Problems to Progress

 

Class of 2021 graduate Siddhi Nadkarni, who concentrated in health and human biology, addressed her fellow graduates on Sunday, May 2.

Nadkarni herself saw a need in her community during the pandemic and did what she could to address it. She volunteered at the Rhode Island Free Clinic’s COVID-19 testing site, which provides free testing for people with low incomes or no insurance. 

Nadkarni encouraged her classmates to take that spirit of activism and service that flourishes at Brown with them as they start a new chapter in their lives outside the Van Wickle Gates. She recalled an interview with a former Google executive, Jaime Casap, who altered the script on an age-old question. “He explained, ‘When I talk to students, I don’t ask them what they want to be when they grow up. I ask: What problems do you want to solve?” Nadkarni said. “I like this question because it shifts the framework from an egocentric narrative to one that asks what we can do for others.”

Brown graduates, she added, were well prepared to take what they’ve learned and use it to improve the lives of those around them. Nadkarni plans to head to medical school after Brown, bringing the perspectives on global health and health inequity she gained at Brown to her future medical practice. 

“The lessons our professors have instilled in us and the endless support of our families — both the ones we grew up with and the ones we’ve created here — will carry us forward,” she said. “Of course, there will be setbacks, and yes, the world is full of problems. But as we have shown here over the past few years, we are problem solvers. We just need to figure out what problems we want to solve next.

“So, let’s get started.”

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