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Monday, June 5, 2023

Celebrating Peace and Inspiring Change: Recap of the 2023 Graduation Celebration and Awards Ceremony

Written by Kroc School

The Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies congratulates all of the 2023 graduates at the University of San Diego. In honor of this momentous occasion, the Kroc School hosted a remarkable graduation celebration and award ceremony to honor the achievements of its graduate students. The Kroc School’s 2023 graduating cohorts included: 26 students from MA in Peace and Justice, 19 students from MA in Social Innovation, 13 students from MS in Conflict Management and Resolution, and 1 student from our Dual Degree JD/MA in Peace and Justice program.


2023 Kroc School Graduating Class

The commencement ceremony consisted of an atmosphere filled with anticipation and reflection. Graduates, their families, faculty and staff members, and distinguished guests gathered to honor our graduates' tireless efforts and dedication. The event provided an opportunity to acknowledge the challenges overcame and celebrate the impactful work accomplished by these budding peacebuilders and Changemakers.


Dean Patricia Márquez gave her opening speech to graduates and their loved ones.

Dean Patricia Márquez opened the evening by welcoming the Kroc School's commencement guest speaker, Teresa Smith, Ph.D., CEO and Founder of Dreams for Change, an organization that applies cutting-edge strategies to create paths toward financial and housing stability. Dr. Smith encouraged our graduates to “take the knowledge that you have learned here (at the Kroc School) and the experience and passion that you have and go out and make the change in the world to make it a kind and peaceful place.” 


MASI Professor Paula Cordeiro, EdD addresses her graduating cohort of MASI Students.

Following the commencement speaker were remarks made by the Kroc School's esteemed program chairs:  Paula Cordeiro, EdD (MASI), Sarah Federman, Ph.D. (MSCMR), and Dustin Sharp, Ph.D. (MAPJ). Dr. Cordeiro left our graduates with some words of encouragement, “Your MASI homework is over, but in an ever-changing world you need to be constantly learning and developing yourselves, reinventing yourself.”

Dr. Federman’s message to our graduating class was to not be discouraged by your age and to develop a craft that allows you to express yourself outside of the challenging work in the field of conflict resolution.

And to close out the chair remarks, Dr. Sharp paraphrases a quote from Alan Watts to encompass the upcoming journey of our new changemakers, “Faith is a state of openness or trust in the universe in which we do not cling to the old certainties but relax and remain open to truth and the possibilities for collective action, allowing us to float in the water rather than sink as we navigate the changing tides ahead.”


Mathew Barry Holloway II 

The 2023 Graduation Celebration and Award Ceremony was intended to provide our graduating cohorts a space to be with their colleagues, friends, and family as they reflect on their time here at the Kroc School. Each program nominated a student to represent their cohort and give a speech to summarize their experiences during their educational journey. The Kroc Graduate Student Associations President, Angelica Sanabria (MAPJ), began the student remarks with a powerful reminder: "We are leaving here transformed and it is because of one another.” She goes on to motivate her classmates to “move forward in all that you do with the bravery to weave, paint, and advocate for the world that we spent days and nights mulling over together.” 

Michelle Wambui Kamau '23 (MAPJ) was the nominated class speaker for the MA in Peace & Justice program and shared her observations during her time here at the Kroc School, “One of the great things about being able to be here is seeing how we have progressed, how we have changed, how we have developed and part of that is by being in proximity to one another.”

Mathew Barry Holloway II '23 (MSCMR) was nominated by his peers to speak at the commencement. “Change is an intimate affair that happens in our hearts in the most private places of them all. And if we are really serious about this thing called social change, I dare all of us to love ourselves.”

The MA in Social Innovation Program nominated Stephanie Montes '23 as their cohort's speaker who hoped to leave all attendees with the following reminder, “Everyone in this room has the possibility to create social change, even if you have a specific degree, a specific title, a specific job profession, we all have the ability to innovate our own story… and as we depart away from the Kroc School of Peace Studies, I feel confident that we all have the internal and external tools to support and build new innovative glasses that is more flexible, more inclusive, more diverse for the needs of today's social issues.”

Following the speeches, the Kroc School honored several outstanding students who demonstrated exceptional leadership, academic and professional excellence, and commitment to promoting peace. These accolades celebrated individual achievements and served as a testament to the collective determination and resilience of the entire graduating class.

Three awards were given for excellence in writing and were presented by Andrew Blum, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice:


Dean Patricia Márquez and Fernando Franco Castro Escobar

  • Best Long-form piece was awarded to Fernando Franco Castro Escobar '23 (MAPJ)
  • Best Short-form piece was awarded to Cassandra Barbara Barrett '23 (MAPJ)
  • Best Published piece was awarded to Clare Elizabeth Bath '23 (MAPJ)

Another three awards were presented for Best Professional Portfolio from each academic program presented by Associate Professor Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick, Ph.D.:

  • The MA in Peace and Justice Portfolio Award was given to Emily Kawahara '23
  • Two students, Tanya Pineda '23, and Rachel Hodel '23, received the MA in Social Innovation Portfolio Award
  • The MS in Conflict Management and Resolution Portfolio Award was given to Twila Mae Albrecht '23

The Community Engagement Awards were dedicated to celebrating the contributions that the recipients made to their communities within and outside of the Kroc School. Andrew Biros, Associate Director of Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship, presented the following awards to the winners.


Dean Patricia Márquez, Fernando Franco Castro Escobar, Twila Mae Albrecht, Mackoy Curtis Turpen and Théa A. Klement

  • The Joan B. Kroc Award was awarded to Bijan Amir Heydari for his contributions to the Kroc School Community through his relentless efforts to create spaces for students to get together and celebrate their hard work and achievements as well as fostering a strong sense of community among his cohort.
  • The Necla Tschirgi Civic Engagement Award was presented to Eriq Vargas for the dedication of his time, skills, and relentless efforts in advocating for the freeing of Palestine and his work in bringing awareness to the apartheid regime that currently exists among the broader San Diego Community.
  • The Patricia Márquez Innovator Award was presented to the Is the World on Fire? Podcast team: Twila Mae Albrecht, Fernando Franco Castro Escobar, Théa A. Klement, and Mackoy Curtis Turpen. Their efforts in developing a podcast that asks distinguished faculty members, political activists, innovators, and changemakers alike the burning question of why the world is currently in a state of disarray from the perspective of their work and how they are combating it in their own ways. 

One of the most remarkable aspects of the 2023 commencement celebration was the sense of community and interconnectedness that permeated the event. Graduates and their families, faculty, and staff came together to celebrate the culmination of years of hard work and to foster lasting connections. The shared commitment to peace and justice formed a strong bond among those present, creating a network of like-minded individuals who will undoubtedly continue to support one another on their respective journeys.

As the ceremony concluded, the excitement for what lies ahead was palpable. Dean Márquez’s closing remarks recognized the major role that the support of the family member and loved ones of the graduates had in facilitating the growth of the Kroc School students during their master's journey, “without you, this would not be possible.” The commencement celebration served as a launching pad for the graduates, instilling them with confidence and a reinforced sense of purpose. Armed with the knowledge and skills acquired at the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies, these individuals are poised to make a significant impact in their communities and beyond, working tirelessly to build a more peaceful and just world.

Kroc School

About the Author

Kroc School

Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies' mission is to equip and empower innovative changemakers to shape more peaceful and just societies.

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