On May 19 Ianna Gilbert ’24 addressed the Brandeis undergraduate Class of 2024 at the University’s 73rd undergraduate commencement ceremony. Gilbert has obtained a double major in computer science and environmental science, and plans on pursuing marine biology. Gilbert is a Roosevelt Fellow, Study Abroad Ambassador and Undergraduate Departmental Representative for the Environmental Studies department. She has also studied abroad in Bocas del Toro, Panamá, and has undergone an internship with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. 

Gilbert began her address by expressing her excitement in sharing this milestone with her peers. “You being here is a testament to your hard work, resilience and dedication throughout the years and in years to come.” She pointed out that many Brandeis graduates have gone on to win the Pulitzer Prizes, Nobel Peace Prizes and many other prestigious accolades. As Gilbert put it, the “tenacity and intelligence” of the graduating class leads her to believe that they will also achieve great successes in the future. 

Gilbert pointed out that for most of the Class of 2024, this would be their first formal graduation as 2020 ceremonies were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “We were resilient then and continue to be resilient now,” she stated, referring to the class of 2024’s unique experience transitioning into college. Finally, the Class of 2024 can celebrate all they have overcome and what they will continue to overcome in their futures. 

Using herself as an example of how the Class of 2024 developed their resilience, Gilbert recounted her own experiences at Brandeis. She recalled having intense imposter syndrome as a first-year, a feeling which many of her friends and peers also experienced. As Gilbert stepped outside of her comfort zone, interacted with support systems around her and adapted to the computer science curriculum. Gilbert made sure to shout out the people that supported her, including teaching assistants, friends and other support groups on campus. 

“Some growth requires us to ride the wave of change,” Gilbert stated, introducing her junior year. During her this time, she decided to take a major leap outside of her comfort zone, accepting the opportunity to study abroad in Bocas del Toro. She recalled a specific moment during which she was swimming in the ocean for a class. Gilbert, unaware of what was near her, turned her head to see a six foot long shark. “It was almost as if the shark was looking deep down in my soul and asked, what are you doing with your life?” For Gilbert, this experience was an unexpected source of personal introspection. 

Since finding herself face-to-face with one, Gilbert has recognized that sharks are misjudged as unsettling. Sharks, while initially unnerving, are also natural leaders and have a keen eye for detail. “They are curious, resilient, adaptive and strong advocates,” Gilbert said. She was inspired to embody these qualities in her senior year, becoming a study abroad ambassador, leader of the John Bible study group and an Undergraduate Departmental Representative. 

“In this room I see so many sharks, natural leaders, wise individuals, curious minds and those willing to advocate for themselves and others,” Gilbert said. She pointed out her classmate’s ability to act in the face of injustice against Brandeis, Indigenous and other people of color, graduate students, dining hall workers and with the current “challenge of Gaza”. 

“This institution has crafted critical thinkers, leaders and problem solvers,” Gilbert stated. “I am reminded of the book of Matthew, where Jesus said, you are the light of the world, a city on a hill that cannot be hidden.” Gilbert encouraged her classmates to recognize the impact they can have on the world, especially during unprecedented times. She closed her address congratulating the Class of 2024 encouraging them to shine.