Razan Aldagher (MPA ’18) and Hilary Shager (MPA ’05, PhD ’12) drew on family experiences for their messages to the La Follette School Class of 2018 on May 13 at the State Capitol.
Aldagher, who transferred to the University of Wisconsin–Madison from Kuwait in 2014, began with a prayer in Arabic that her mother taught her. The prayer has been integral to Aldagher’s success throughout her academic career and in speaking in front of her classmates and hundreds of guests at graduation in the State Capitol, she said.
With three requests, the prayer eased her anxiety. The first request – an expansion of the chest – allowed Aldagher to breathe deeply, which “my brother Ameer would always remind me, puts your body at ease and allows you to realign your concentration.”
The second request – to ease my path – reminded Aldagher of the “invisible hands guiding us to where our work would be most effective,” she said. “All the economic theories we have absorbed can in no way capture the miracles we encounter throughout the journey.”
Finally, the prayer asks “to have the knots in my tongue to untangle,” which prompted Aldagher to recall her arrival in Madison in January 2014 and how her love of the campus and community has grown.
“The manifestation of this prayer evolved over time,” she said. “My chest expanded to breathe in all the gems that have shined within every single one of you. … My path was paved so smoothly with the presence of beautiful people on this campus and in this program.”
Before congratulating her classmates, she reminded them to “cherish the knots that once restrained us from speaking and are now finally untangled because of our education and, more so, our experiences.”
Shager, meanwhile, brought her daughter, Ava, to the graduation ceremony. As a La Follette School student, Shager was pregnant with Ava – now 14 years old. Ava, she said, got her thinking about the awareness, energy, and call to action that so many young people are expressing to help solve some of today’s most wicked social problems.
“I see it in the news … and I am excited by what I see in you – the next generation of La Follette graduates,” Shager said. “And I am especially excited about this class – because these Bobs and Belles, they get stuff done.”
Shager recalled a group of students expressing their concerns about the school’s diversity. Her response? “OK, well, we’re at a policy school; you’re policy students – you know what to do. Go do your research, go do your analysis, and for the love of all things holy, bring me a logic model.”
And they did. They searched for evidence-based strategies for increasing diversity, they looked at the data and collected their own, and they engaged the La Follette School’s faculty, staff, and students. “These students heeded a call to action,” Shager said. “And they used their public affairs skills to get results.”
They helped recruit more under-represented and first-generation students than ever before, and they inspired a donor to match the fundraising efforts that made it happen. “Importantly, the incoming class at La Follette is the most diverse class ever, specifically in terms of underrepresented students of color,” Shager said. “Congratulations on your efforts.”
She concluded by encouraging the Class of 2018 – her fellow alumni – to return to the La Follette School in some capacity.
“Go out there, find your passion, apply your skills – may I highly recommend that you always develop a sound logic model first – and make your difference,” she said. “And come back. Give back. I can personally guarantee that you will find it incredibly rewarding.”