Two years later than planned, Class of 2020 graduates to address peers at Commencement

Brown alumni Sydney Lo and Dhruv Singh will return to campus to deliver Commencement speeches to the Class of 2020 on Saturday, May 28, with a focus on the importance of community.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Sydney Lo and Dhruv Singh are big believers in the importance of finding and building community.

Each of the two Brown graduates will speak about community as they address their Class of 2020 peers, who — after a two-year delay due to the global COVID-19 pandemic — will return to College Hill later this month for the time-honored tradition of celebrating Commencement.

For Lo and Singh, whose speeches were already well-developed before COVID forced the cancellation of Commencement and Reunion Weekend in 2020, it was a challenge to put into words exactly how it feels to return to campus after two years, but there was a noticeable excitement in both of their voices.  

“I wrote this speech two and a half years ago, and it has grown and evolved as I have,” said Singh, who graduated with a concentration in international relations and is now a speechwriter for Democratic National Committee chair Jaime Harrison.

Added Lo, who earned a degree in literary arts and biology and just completed her first year of medical school at the University of Minnesota: “It feels like it’s finally a chance for closure, but also a time to celebrate.”

Though they’re no longer Brown seniors, Lo and Singh will process with their classmates through the Van Wickle Gates and then deliver senior orations in typical Brown style on Saturday, May 28, in a dedicated, in-person Class of 2020 Commencement ceremony.

Commitment to community

Lo, who is from Saint Cloud, Minnesota, said she always had a passion for science and health, and arrived at Brown in 2017 knowing that medicine could be a likely career path. Even though she was raised by two parents who were physicians, her family ties were not the driving factor, she said.

“They did not push the physician path on me, instead encouraging me to find my own passions and interests,” Lo said. “Still, seeing their positive effect on community members in my hometown was very impactful. As I learned more about myself, my love of connecting with people along with my love of science and health, medicine just seemed to be the best fit. As a child, while I was very passionate about visual art and writing, I was also science-oriented, spending afternoons collecting baking soda and vinegar from neighbors for science experiments or catching tadpoles to observe their shift into frogs.”

My goal for the speech is really to give the message that in spite of all the things that we’ve experienced, the pandemic and this really tumultuous past few years, that healing is possible... It feels like it’s finally a chance for closure, but also a time to celebrate.

Sydney Lo Brown Class or 2020
 
Sydney Lo

Sadly, it was the unexpected death of her younger brother in July 2017, after Lo had completed her first year as a student at Brown, that cemented her decision to pursue a career in medicine.

“What solidified medicine as the path for me was the months following in and out of appointments with cardiac electrophysiologists, genetic counselors and family practice physicians trying to uncover what happened and if it could happen to me,” she said. “I was so devastated and scared during that time, and I really depended on the health care professionals to support me through the medical aspect of this tragedy. I knew I wanted to be able to do the same for others who were grieving or struggling, and I found medical school to be the best way for me to accomplish that.”

Joining a bereavement group at Brown, and diving into community work as a Bonner Fellow at the Swearer Center, offered Lo a sense of a belonging after her brother’s death, she said. “I knew that in order to move forward and to heal and process the grief that I was experiencing, community would have to be a part of that.”

Lo’s experiences at Brown included composing initial drafts of case reports of atypical findings of Brugada syndrome and arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC) at Rhode Island Hospital. She also conducted cancer-related research at the Royal Veterinary College in London. A particularly impactful appointment — and one now especially relevant, amid the COVID-19 pandemic — was serving as a teaching assistant for the course Development of Vaccines in Brown’s Program in Biology.

“It was certainly one of the most impactful experiences of my life,” said Lo, who is currently conducting research in infectious disease and in dermatology at the University of Minnesota. “I will be forever grateful to Brown for giving me the chance to learn so much about vaccines.”

Bringing Brown’s commitment to community engagement to life, Lo served as a tutor to local elementary students whose education was impacted by the pandemic, and as a volunteer and translator for the student-organized CareFree Clinic, which provides free health screenings in and around Providence. The arts were another part of her repertoire — she wrote and edited for Brown Daily Herald’s Post-Magazine, founded a poetry group and painted, too.

“I was a freelance watercolor painter and completed portraits for students who were interested,” Lo said. “I also began working extensively with the intersection of science and art during my time at Brown, completing for instance watercolor paintings of a scapula, a heart and psoriasis. One of my paintings was actually chosen as the cover for an issue of Catalyst, a science and art magazine on campus.”

Despite the personal loss she suffered so soon after arriving at Brown, Lo remains upbeat and optimistic, at attitude that will shine through in her words delivered to the Class of 2020: “My goal for the speech is really to give the message that in spite of all the things that we’ve experienced, the pandemic and this really tumultuous past few years, that healing is possible,” she said. 

Connecting with other people’s stories

Singh, too, hopes his address about finding community will connect with the Class of 2020.

“I feel very fortunate that I get to share my story, and maybe it will connect with other people’s stories,” said the Sharon, Massachusetts, native. “That’s always the best feeling.”

Reflecting on four years on campus, Singh emphasized the importance of building connections with others. He became a member of Brown Outdoor Leadership Training, which he described as “his community.” He had considered transferring from Brown in his first year, but when he joined BOLT he knew he was here to stay. His speech will focus on that decision, he said, and how a sense of community is what makes Brown special.

I got through Brown and loved Brown because of the people I had. You have your ambitions, you have the things you pursue, the things you’re excited about. But... they’re not as exciting, they’re not as gratifying without the people behind you and the people around you supporting you.

Dhruv Singh Brown Class of 2020
 
Dhruv Singh

“I got through Brown and loved Brown because of the people I had,” Singh said. “You have your ambitions, you have the things you pursue, the things you’re excited about. But those things, they’re not in my opinion as possible, they’re not as exciting, they’re not as gratifying without the people behind you and the people around you supporting you.”

Another community for Singh at Brown? Housing Opportunity for People Everywhere, a student group that addresses structural issues related to homelessness and poverty.

“I got involved with HOPE my first year at Brown because I was looking for some way to do some form of public service,” he said. “I picked HOPE mostly because the people were so nice to me when I was still trying to find my niche at Brown. They gave me a crash course on housing justice, which is where my interest arose.”

His community engagement work included collaborating with a team at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs to research, write, produce and publicize a podcast about the eviction crisis in Rhode Island and how the pandemic only exacerbated it. He led a weekly nighttime street outreach team that built relationships with people experiencing homelessness to connect them to and help them try to find housing. He also tutored students pursuing GEDs in Rhode Island prisons.

Singh’s interest in speechwriting is rooted in his love for the written word. “I always enjoyed writing and good stories,” he said. “When the chance to try speechwriting arose, I took it and loved it.”

Outside of work, Singh is now a member of the group Speechwriters of Color. He works to share speechwriting opportunities he learns of with the group so a more diverse pool of writers has the chance to compete for these roles, he said: “Speechwriting is a really an insular position that lacks diversity, so growing up, I didn't even know speechwriting was a job.”

After all, he said, community extends beyond just personal relationships. “It’s also: ‘What is your commitment to your friend who is a person of color, or to your city that has a housing issue, or to your country that has a racial justice problem?’” he explained. “I see community at all of those levels.”