Congratulations Class of 2017: “Be ready to be surprised!”

The University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public and International Affairs (GSPIA) celebrated the academic achievements of its students during the 2017 Honors and Graduation Ceremony held at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Museum, April 27, 2017.  To watch the ceremony, click here.

Faculty President John Mendeloff officially opened the processional as GSPIA Dean John T. S. Keeler and Vice Provost for Graduate Studies, Alberta M. Sbragia, provided salutations to family, friends, alumni and graduates. 

“Graduation clearly represents both a beginning and a conclusion—and neither beginnings nor conclusions are solitary endeavors,” explained Dr. Sbragia. “Above all, graduation embodies the countless hours of help—both emotional and financial—which families and friends have contributed.”

Dr. Sbragia praised the contributions of GSPIA faculty and staff to the University, noting the School’s “academic reputation has never been higher.”

“The University of Pittsburgh is an extremely strong academic institution, and the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs makes an absolutely vital contribution to the University’s overall success,” said Dr. Sbragia.

“For the graduates themselves, this ceremony symbolizes academic success, the widening of intellectual horizons, and the attainment of a precious degree. You can be proud that you are joining the ranks of the School’s alumni,” noted Dr. Sbragia, as she continued. “Speaking for the Office of the Provost, we are equally proud that we can now number you among the University’s alumni.”

Dean Keeler shared a common theme that had developed from past graduations. He noted at the time of graduation, many graduates feel like they have a good idea of how they would like their careers to materialize. “Often opportunities emerge out of the blue things you can never anticipate,” explained Dr. Keeler. “Sometimes they happen through a special connection or because someone heard about your good works.”

The Dean went onto introduce the commencement speaker, Andrew R. Hoehn (MPIA ’86), senior vice president for research and analysis at the RAND Corporation, who echoed the Dean’s sentiments drawing from his own career in the fields of journalism, government, and policy research.

“If you are looking for the single path to a career filled with impact, you may not find it,” explained Hoehn. “But I can assure you that multiple paths, with changes in direction every now and then can be a whole lot more interesting. Be ready to be surprised.”

In further reflection, Hoehn described how the world had changed since he and his wife, Robin, were students at GSPIA more than 30 years ago. At the time, the Cold War with the Soviet Union dominated education policy and focused on training leaders with the skills to win the war.  “The challenges today are different, but not fewer…,” noted Hoehn. “Your role is to help find those opportunities and help navigate the change that is almost certainly that is coming…”

Dean’s Award winner Max Harleman also recognized these challenges but with an understanding that there are “no right answers, within the complex societal systems in which we live,” as he explained.  “Every participant maintains their own unique perspective on what they want the world to look like, and decides what their own role will be in achieving that vision.”

To address these major challenges, Harleman believes future policies will require graduates to work together to uncover shared goals because, “Alone, none of us can solve the multifaceted problems that we collectively face” said Harleman.

Class President Jessica Smith also mentioned the uncertainty and complexity of the challenges facing the graduating class, but reassured her follow graduates that they were up for the challenge. “To my fellow graduates, I would like to tell you all that I have never met a group more intelligent, driven, focused, passionate, creative and eager to make a positive impact,” said Smith. She went on to thank the GSPIA faculty, staff, family and friends for their “endless support and encouragement.”  

In his concluding remarks, Hoehn told the GSPIA Class of 2017 that it was their time to lead. “The world needs you just as much, perhaps more so, than it did when we were preparing to enter the workforce,” said Hoehn. “It is now time to put into practice what you have learned. We are counting on you.”

Awards Ceremony

Following the commencement address, Dean Keeler presented the Distinguished Alumnus award to Hoehn for his commitment to public service and the School. Hoehn is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and has served on the GSPIA Board of Visitors since 2009. Hoehn joined the RAND Corporation as Director, Strategy and Doctrine Program in Project AIR FORCE. In 2006 he was named Vice President and Director of Project AIR FORCE, responsible for directing studies and analysis programs that focused on strategy, force employment, personnel and training, and resource management. In his current role as senior vice president for research, he is responsible for all U.S.-based research and analysis, quality assurance, and recruitment and oversight of RAND’s 1,300 research staff. To read Hoehn’s bio, click here. 

Dean Keeler also presented the Dean’s Award for the most distinguished record among students in the graduating class in terms of academic achievement and service to Max Richard Harleman and Jessica Michelle Smith.

Smith also recognized professors George Dougherty and Jennifer Murtazashvili for their good works throughout the year with the Goldstein Outstanding Teacher Award. She also recognized Sandy Monteverde for her commitment to student success with the Staff of the Year Award.

Associate Dean Paul Nelson presented the Endowed Awards with Special Focus. Lindsay Hilton Retchless received the Gloria Fitzgibbons Memorial Award for GSPIA women graduating in the Public Administration or Public Policy and Management program, who have high scholastic standing and are deemed to have the potential to become a recognized pubic administrator.

Elizabeth Bell, Rosamaria Cristello and Hanifa Nakiryowa received Sergeant James “Rip” Taylor Memorial Endowment Fund Award. This award recognizes a student or students that exemplify Sergeant Taylor’s spirit of public service and academic achievement.

Xinyi Hang was awarded the Taraknath Das Foundation Prize Fund for her paper, “The effect of Gender Inequality on academic performance in Chinese Education.” 

Jia Yang received the David E. Oeler Award, presented to an outstanding student in the field of information systems.

Cynthia Ann Caul was awarded the Simon Reich Human Security Writing Award for her outstanding policy paper, “Improving and diversifying water access to mitigate the disproportionate impacts of climate change on women in northern Ghana.”

Dean Keeler presented the Graduation Awards to the following students including:

Jonas Gamso, Doctoral Program Faculty Award

Kexin Shu, International Affairs Program Faculty Award

Arwa Khadr Elboraei, International Development Program Faculty Award

Emma Katelyn Wallis, Public Administration Program Faculty Award

Min Ho Park, Public Policy and Management Program Faculty Award 

2017 Graduation Ceremony, Video 1
2017 Graduation Ceremony, Video 2
2017 Graduation Ceremony, Video 3


Graduate School of Public and International Affairs
3601 Wesley W. Posvar Hall, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15260