Date April 26, 2023
Media Contact

In upcoming Commencement speeches, senior orators to champion lifelong curiosity, openness to risk

In late May, Class of 2023 members Kailiang Fu and Margherita Micaletti-Hinojal will encourage their peers to explore widely and take chances after graduation, just as they did as Brown students.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — College is a time for fearless exploration. What if life after graduation were the same?

In separate Commencement speeches, two graduating seniors at Brown University will encourage an audience of peers, family members and friends to approach life after college exactly as they approached their academic journeys at Brown — with an open mind, a willingness to fail and an eye toward making a positive impact on the world.

Kailiang Fu, a double concentrator in history and applied math-computer science, and Margherita Micaletti-Hinojal, a double concentrator in political science and philosophy, will share their remarks at the University Ceremony on Sunday, May 28, during Brown’s Commencement and Reunion Weekend. Their senior orations build on a 255-year University tradition of elevating student voices at Commencement.

Per custom, the orators were selected through a rigorous review process that began with a call for nominations in Fall 2022. Fu and Micaletti-Hinojal were part of a large group of nominated Class of 2023 students who submitted sample speeches; later, they were among a handful of finalists selected to deliver proposed addresses to a committee of faculty and students.

Though Fu and Micaletti-Hinojal had never met until this month, they’ve had remarkably similar journeys at Brown.

Both were born outside the United States: Fu in China and Micaletti-Hinojal in Spain. Both chose Brown for its unique Open Curriculum, making use of its signature flexibility to discover unexpected passions. Both planted deeper roots in Providence after engaging with children in local public schools. And both hope their words will inspire classmates to explore career opportunities and hobbies as enthusiastically as they explored diverse academic subjects, volunteer positions, startup ventures and clubs at Brown.

Kailiang Fu: ‘Brown has made us all more fault tolerant’

When it came time to choose a college or university, Kailiang Fu knew he wanted an educational experience that prioritized intellectual independence, creative thinking and exploration. When Fu learned about Brown’s Open Curriculum, he quickly realized he’d found his home. Reflecting on that decision four years later, Fu is confident he made the right decision, and he will share that message on Commencement day.

“I want my fellow graduates to keep the mindset we’ve gained here at Brown of not being controlled by the fear of failure,” Fu said. “I want us to keep exploring and risk-taking.”

Originally from Zhengzhou, the capital of China’s Henan Province, Fu said he plans to channel his experiences at Brown into an address that epitomizes a computer science term called “fault tolerance,” which refers to a system’s ability to bounce back, despite setbacks or failure.

“I think that's our most important lesson,” Fu said of the resiliency he’s learned. “Brown has made us all more ‘fault tolerant.’ We’ve been encouraged to chart our own journeys and explore different, new topics. And even if we’ve messed up and failed, we’ve gained experience for the next time we try something that pushes us to our limits.”

The lessons in Fu’s speech are grounded in his time at Brown. During his four years, Fu said he looked continually for opportunities to expand his skills in computer science and satisfy his passion for history, whether it was through courses, student organizations or internships.

Since January 2023, Fu has worked as an undergraduate teaching assistant in Brown computer science courses such as Distributed Computer Systems. He’s also served as a mentor for IgniteCS, a student organization that travels to local K-12 schools to help students learn coding and other computer science skills. And as a team member of Dream!n, a user-generated gaming startup that won second place in last year’s Brown Venture Prize, Fu has learned the ins and outs of running a small technology company.

Fu remembers two classroom experiences with special fondness. One was Archaeology of College Hill, which had him digging into the foundations of a Gilded Age family’s home on Hope Street in Providence and finding painted mosaic tiles, tiny glass bottles and rusty nails. The course gave him an increased appreciation for history’s many complexities and individual stories.

“We talk about primary sources all the time in history courses, but we don’t always get a full picture of the process it takes to get these firsthand,” Fu said. “In this course, we did, and we then got to analyze them. To borrow a term from computer science, we got the full stack experience of history.”

The other course was Persuasive Communication, taught by Distinguished Senior Lecturer in Theatre Arts and Performance Studies Barbara Tannenbaum. As an international student whose second language is English, Fu said the course — even when he struggled with it — taught him to think more deeply about how he communicates in English, helping him improve on difficult but easily overlooked skills such as pronunciation. He said the experience paid dividends when it came to interviews for internships and jobs.

Brown has made us all more ‘fault tolerant.’ We’ve been encouraged to chart our own journeys and explore different, new topics. And even if we’ve messed up and failed, we’ve gained experience for the next time we try something that pushes us to our limits.

Kailiang Fu Senior Orator
Kailiang Fu standing on steps

Tannenbaum’s course also helped solidify Fu’s belief that Brown faculty members care not only about his academic future, but also about his personal goals. 

“No matter what you do or try out education-wise, Brown’s got your back,” he said.

Fu said one of the most critical skills he learned in the applied math-computer science concentration was how to collaborate with others in group projects. Those projects taught him how to take big problems and break them down into manageable pieces, whether the focus was on coding, interface design, machine learning or the security of computer systems. Fu used all of those skills and more in summer internships at Amazon and Meta his sophomore and junior years, respectively. After graduation, he will apply what he learned when he starts a job at Uber.

“This process of breaking down big problems into small, doable components was really fruitful for me,” Fu said. “I would love to carry this way of thinking into my education, career and beyond.”

Margherita Micaletti-Hinojal: ‘We don’t have to follow in rigid footsteps’

Margherita Micaletti-Hinojal has always considered herself a citizen of the world. The child of two diplomats from Spain and Italy, she attended a French school in New York City, surrounded by classmates who hailed from countries across the globe.

“I was raised at the intersection of a lot of different countries, cultures and languages, to the point where I never really fit in — a feeling that I think is very common for international students,” the senior said. “I didn’t really feel a strong sense of belonging to any community.”

Until, that is, she came to Brown.

Micaletti-Hinojal recalled touring the University and marveling at how happy and balanced students’ lives seemed. She wondered: How do they maintain an ideal balance between rigor and relaxation, between mingling and making a positive impact on the world?

Four years later, on the precipice of graduation, Micaletti-Hinojal is living her own rich, balanced life: The political science and philosophy double concentrator has sampled courses across more than a dozen academic departments while maintaining a busy calendar, working with English language learners and children with special needs in Providence public schools via the Inspiring Minds Explorers program and pursuing internships focused on immigration law, education equity and health equity at Human Rights First, South Africa’s Umkhumbane Schools Project and McKinsey and Company, respectively.

After graduation, Micaletti-Hinojal plans to travel far and wide, potentially learning Portuguese and Arabic along the way, before returning to New York to work as an analyst at McKinsey. Ultimately, she plans to attend law school to study international human rights. In her senior oration, she says she’ll employ equal parts humor and gravitas to explain how Brown’s flexible Open Curriculum led her there.

It all began on her first day on College Hill — when, at International Student Orientation, she connected with five other first-year students who quickly became her best friends. Four years later, the diverse group of six is still inseparable: They live together in a boisterous house on Hope Street.

“We’re all from different countries, and we bring different points of view to every conversation,” Micaletti-Hinojal said. “They helped me realize that my home in the world is not a physical place, or a country, or a specific culture or community. Home is the feeling of being completely accepted and understood, supported and loved, even when you are far away from each other.”

I think it’s funny that the best things that have happened to me at Brown have been so random, but I also think it’s an important lesson about the value of exploration... There are so many options, and we don’t have to follow in rigid footsteps.

Margherita Micaletti-Hinojal Senior Orator
Portrait of Margherita Micaletti-Hinojal

The senior did spend some time apart from her friends in Fall 2022, after their wise counsel led to one of her most formative college experiences: a semester in Cuba. 

“I was choosing between programs in Italy and Cuba,” she said. “I decided not on a whim, but close to it: I polled my friends, and the majority picked Cuba.”

The next three months, she said, were full of surprises. She had expected to study political science, only to discover the University of Havana has no political science college; she instead enrolled in philosophy, sociology and history courses, soon becoming immersed in the Cuban tradition of taking part in lengthy conversations on ethics issues in the classroom and the public square. She joined the philosophy, sociology and history faculty soccer team, and in one game scored an epic goal that attracted major attention on Twitter. She accidentally attended a student council meeting and was elected to the governing body, allowing her an unexpected glimpse into Cuba’s student political scene.

“It was an amazing, foundational experience,”  Micaletti-Hinojal said. “Everyone in Cuba is talking about justice and fairness and intervention into inequity all the time. My thesis is focused on the morality of human rights intervention, and I think it would look very different if I hadn’t studied abroad.”

Micaletti-Hinojal realized later that going to Cuba was just one of many spontaneous yet life-defining moves she’d made while at Brown. She recalled that at the beginning of one semester, on a whim, she dropped in on Senior Lecturer in Political Science Nina Tannenwald’s International Law and Human Rights course. Micaletti-Hinojal was so taken by the subject matter that she explored yet more courses and ultimately decided to pursue a career in international law.

“Even though I always knew the type of work I wanted to do, it wasn’t until coming to Brown that I was able, through trial and error, to discover my specific passion for human rights work,” Micaletti-Hinojal said. “The part of Brown I’ve enjoyed the most is being able work toward that career while also exploring other personal interests.”

Interests, she said, such as stand-up comedy. Spurred by a past love for mock trial, which combined her interest in law with her passion for performing, Micaletti-Hinojal took an impulsive plunge into comedy in Spring 2023, drafting jokes and trying them out on her roommates. The senior’s first public performances will take place on campus in late April and early May. 

They’ll serve as ideal preparation for her humor-filled Commencement remarks, she said.

“I think it’s funny that the best things that have happened to me at Brown have been so random, but I also think it’s an important lesson about the value of exploration,” she said. “Going to Cuba, starting to do stand-up comedy in my living room, meeting my best friends on the first day of school — all of that happened because I was open to exploring. So let’s keep exploring! There are so many options, and we don’t have to follow in rigid footsteps.”