From Roads, to Trees to Gifts: Graduation Speakers Illustrate the Diversity of Public Service Journeys


Under a cloud-covered sky and several century-old White Ash trees, nearly 200 Batten BA and MPP graduates and their guests gathered for a diploma ceremony held at James Monroe’s Highland estate on Saturday afternoon. After the students spent a wet morning in a sea of umbrellas at final exercises on the Lawn earlier in the day, the Batten ceremony provided a more intimate setting for families, friends, faculty and staff to celebrate our new alumni while listening as three speakers offered inspirational stories, reflected on meaningful moments and shared practical advice.

“I suppose I am here, at least in part, because I represent the promise and the possibility of a career spent in large part in public-policy-related work,” said keynote speaker Dr. Adriana D. Kugler, a member of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System and previous U.S. Executive Director at the World Bank Group.

A native of Columbia, Kugler recalled visiting different parts of the country with her parents, witnessing poverty and social problems and helping on projects to alleviate suffering. At 15, she came to the U.S. and when she entered college, she was guided by her desire to help others, eventually rising to become the first Latin policymaker in the Federal Reserve’s history.

Reflecting upon her own career path and likening it to a winding road with alternative routes and stops, she encouraged graduates to follow their own paths and be open to the unexpected.

“I want to emphasize that my career was not linear or perfectly planned, but rather I have chosen to take detours,” said Kugler. “And, importantly, I have chosen to take risks along the way. Yet what was always a constant was my commitment to use my technical expertise to tackle poverty and social challenges. But I also could have never imagined that some of the detours I took would actually help me down the road in preparing me for my current role.”  (Read Kugler’s full remarks here.)


Likewise, BA graduate Ellie Stombres spoke of life changes and choices and the struggle to decide which path to take.  She recalled an uneventful, yet hot day in Monroe Hall where she and her fellow classmates discussed The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath.   

”I read it for the first time this past fall, inciting a long journey of grappling with the fact that my life was about to change. In the book, the main character Esther, like me, struggles as she comes of age and attempts to find purpose in her life. Plath characterizes Esther’s struggle through a metaphor: the famous fig tree.”

Similar to Esther’s struggle with the many fig branches symbolic of life choices, Stombres said she struggled with her own questions regarding her future and if, by choosing one option over another, wondering whether she might lose out on something else. She says that her Batten community gave her a truer insight into the fig tree than she could ever have imagined.

“The beautiful thing about trees and life, is that each year a fig tree will grow new figs. Throughout life we will continuously be presented with new options, new ‘lives’ to take on. Sometimes the paths we choose may not work out. Sometimes they will. But we have many chances over the course of our lives to fulfill many destinies, to be our best selves…to experience, to grow, to make a difference.”

Ellie Stombres pictured with her family after the diploma ceremony.

MPP graduate Collin Quigley also chose to talk about making a difference, referencing time as a gift that he and his classmates have learned and practiced over their two years at Batten.

“We study public policy because we’re inspired by amazing people to ensure their service is not done alone. That commitment not only helps us build policy that cares for the public – but it’s how we’ve worked to care for one another at Batten,” said Quigley. “These last two years have taught us sometimes in harsh ways about how time is a gift. We have learned in ways we never wanted to that heartbreak is a painful invitation to better love one another. We are very lucky that this family accepts this invitation.”

Quigley closed by saying that he and his cohort have received the gift of education and its value is not in what it does for us, but in what it gives to others.

“As a school of public service, there is no greater obligation than to take our educations and give it away so that someone who has never heard of the Batten School will live a life with greater opportunity because we went to the Batten School. That is the greatest gift that we, as graduates of the Batten School, can give. Let’s give it away.”

Collin Quigley (fourth from left) pictured with Batten staff and fellow graduates. 

More photos from Saturday's Diploma Ceremony and Final Exercises:

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Garrett Hall at Sunset

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