Senior orators to impart advice, bid farewell to Class of 2022 members during Commencement

In keeping with a Brown tradition that dates back more than two and a half centuries, seniors Kaitlan Bui, Alexandra Ali Martínez and Michelle Liu will address their fellow graduates during Commencement 2022.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Consider the coursework, research and community engagement that seniors Kaitlan Bui, Alexandra Ali Martínez and Michelle Liu completed at Brown, and it’s clear that their roots are reflected in various aspects of their endeavors and accomplishments.

Later this month, after the three students process through the Van Wickle Gates in Brown tradition during Commencement, they’ll share yet another similarity: serving as senior orators and addressing their fellow Class of 2022 members during the University Ceremony on Sunday, May 29.

Their orations will be part of a 254-year-old Brown tradition of elevating student voices at Commencement. Bui, Martínez and Liu were selected through a rigorous review process, which began with a call for nominations and submission of sample speeches. A selection committee then invited the top candidates to deliver their proposed addresses earlier this semester.

Together, a more holistic message to graduates

Traditionally, there are two senior orators — in a distinctive touch this year, Martínez and Bui are collaborating to deliver a joint address, so a total of three students will deliver the two addresses.

“I asked Kaitlan to join me in creating a collective reflection because I deeply admire her community work,” said Martínez, a Rhodes Scholarship winner who is concentrating in Latin American and Caribbean studies, and international and public affairs. “We see ourselves as two women of color daring to be powerful as we unravel structures for a transformative future.”

Inspired in part by her experience growing up near the U.S.-Mexico border with her “loving migrant family,” Martínez spent her undergraduate years serving her community in Chula Vista, California. She embarked on two honors theses at Brown: an oral history project focusing on families living at the border, and an ethnography on the impacts of U.S. immigration policies on asylum-seeking children.

Both projects grew out of fellowships awarded by Brown’s Swearer Center. In Summer 2020, with aid from an Arthur Liman Public Interest Fellowship, Martínez took part in an internship at a bi-national legal service organization, where she created and directed an educational curriculum for migrant children living in shelters at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“I’m primarily motivated to help the community that raised me,” she told the San Diego Union-Tribune after winning the Rhodes Scholarship. “My research — both the oral history and ethnography — really prioritizes the narratives and stories of our communities, particularly the stories of our migrant communities as a mode to critically reimagine our immigration and global migration systems.”

A member of the student advisory council at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, Martínez has worked with multiple international organizations and engaged in public interest legal work with a focus on immigration reform. In addition to her academic and internship work, Martínez is president of the Brown Pre-Law Society and a member of Brown’s varsity cross country, and track and field teams.

“My time at Brown has cultivated deeply rooted principles of an abundance of community care and solidarity within me,” she said. “The Open Curriculum has allowed me to explore courses from a broad range of departments. It has also created opportunities like the Royce Fellowship where Kaitlan and I, who are from different concentrations, were able to share, grow and learn alongside each other while working on projects to support our communities.”

As a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, she looks forward to growing as a community-engaged scholar as she pursues a doctorate in migration studies. After, she plans to attend law school to become an attorney focused on international human rights.

Like Martínez, Bui is a California native — from Stanton, in Orange County — who earned a prominent fellowship of her own, capturing a Fulbright Scholarship. An English and East Asian studies concentrator, she’ll use the Fulbright to begin teaching English in Vietnam, where her family is from, this summer.

“During my time in college, I became deeply invested in exploring memory in the Vietnamese diaspora — the subject of my senior honors thesis,” Bui said. “I am part of the first generation of my family to be born in America, so my relationship with these memories is complicated and imaginative, and I realized that I just wanted to experience, even live, in this country that holds so much of my family's stories.”

Over her four years at Brown, Bui served as a student fellow and a Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan committee member at the Cogut Institute for the Humanities, roles that enabled her to integrate her research on Vietnamese diaspora postwar memory in more public academic spaces, and to reach a wider interdisciplinary audience. As a Royce Fellow, she ran a Vietnamese American storytelling workshop for high school students in California. And as a BrownConnect LINK Award recipient, she conducted and translated interviews with family members about their lives in Vietnam, their immigration experience and their time in the United States.

Bui also built an extensive set of experiences around her passion for writing, serving as editor of Cornerstone Magazine, a Christian literary magazine produced by students from Brown and the Rhode Island School of Design, and as a staff writer for the Brown Daily Herald’s Post-Magazine.

“Writing is what I come back to because it is the place where I can peel back my heart and invite others into it,” Bui said. “In my earlier college days, I wondered if writing was selfish. But then someone told me that what I wrote was an exact description of what they were feeling; they just didn't know how to put it into words. I think writing makes people feel seen.”

Without giving away any specifics, Bui and Martínez said their senior oration will, among other things, honor families, professors, classmates and the communities who supported the graduates.

“The oration is a collective reflection on how to hold our communities,” Martínez said.

“We don’t want to hold each other just in hardship but also in joy,” Bui added. “And beyond holding, we want to uplift.”

A sense of identity, and a sense of community

Liu, too, shares a love for writing, a pursuit through which she found purpose and passion during her years at Brown. In her senior oration on Commencement day, she plans to emphasize to her peers the importance of assessing the purpose of their lives. The New Jersey native will also acknowledge her family because of the importance she places on her upbringing, she said.

“I was super excited and incredibly honored and grateful to have the chance to speak to so many people, not only students, but also parents and mentors who’ve helped us along the way,” Liu said.

A statistics and sociology concentrator, Liu served as president of sociology’s Departmental Undergraduate Group. Inspired by her own experiences and a course titled Race, Class and Ethnicity in the Modern World, she worked on a collaborative student/faculty research project, analyzing data from more than 504,000 census participants to extract insights about the Asian American population among subgroups, between genders, and among other races to study racialization in United States.

She also co-founded Red Envelope Stories, a newsletter in which subscribers share stories on ethnicity and identity, with a particular focus on grappling with the modern Asian diasporic identity. Liu told the Boston Globe in an article on the project that she is working to foster pride in her identity as an Asian American: “The stories are not just what people think of as ‘traditional Asian American stories,’ but also the intersectionality of Asian people in America, as well as other parts of the world,” she told the newspaper. 

Liu wrote essays and stories and contributed content to the Boston Globe, Business Insider, the Public’s Radio and a range of other news organizations during her time on campus, seeking to understand and improve social inequalities within minority communities through data, writing and advocacy. She was a reporter for her county newspaper and a social innovation fellow at the Swearer Center. She served also as associate data director for the Brown Political Review, a team lead at 180 Degrees Consulting and an editor at the Brown Daily Herald’s Post-Magazine.

Reflecting on her classroom experience, Liu noted the impact of the Open Curriculum as well as the support of the students, faculty and staff she met across campus. Brown’s signature approach to undergraduate education allowed her to explore “a wide range of interests from writing to mathematical modeling,” she said.

“Something key about my Brown experience was the community,” she said. “Without my professors and friends, I can't imagine receiving the opportunities I've been given. Through them, I was exposed to different interests and worldviews and able to decide for myself what was right for me.”

After Commencement, she will work at McKinsey & Company in New York as a management consultant.

“I found so many opportunities to do what I wanted to do at Brown, while really developing a lifelong passion for writing,” she said. “I’m leaving Brown with a really strong sense of identity and what I want to do with my life.”