PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Bardiya Akhbari and Sonya Brooks, both soon-to-be-graduating Brown University students, live 3,000 miles away from one another and may never meet. But they have something profound in common: Amid the global COVID-19 pandemic and the isolation it has mandated at points, they rediscovered the power of human connection.
Akhbari, a Ph.D. student in biomedical engineering, and Brooks, a master’s student in urban education policy, plan to speak about the importance of connection and community in separate addresses to their fellow Class of 2021 graduates at the University’s Graduate School Commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 1.
In keeping with the University’s annual tradition of elevating student voices at Commencement, the Graduate Student Council selected Akhbari and Brooks as this year’s speakers. The pair will address their peers, many of whom will attend the ceremony in person, and the thousands of family members and friends who will watch the livestream from across the country and world.
Both Akhbari and Brooks plan to highlight the idea that personal connections can empower people from marginalized communities to advocate for themselves and effect positive change, bringing societies closer to achieving equality and justice.
“Because we went to Brown, we have the ability to help others — to take their hands and lift them up,” Akhbari said of himself and his graduating peers. “Many people have lost their jobs or their health care during this pandemic. We are lucky: In the middle of all this madness, we finished our doctoral and master’s programs. We need to use our luck and our degrees to help others.”