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Commencement speakers to discuss ambition in friendships, overcoming obstacles

Marielle Buxbaum '24, Caziah Mayers '24 will speak Sunday

Caziah Mayers '24, left, and Marielle Buxbaum '24, right, are the latest participants in a longstanding tradition of students delivering Commencement addresses.

Courtesy of Nick Dentamaro/Brown University
Caziah Mayers '24, left, and Marielle Buxbaum '24, right, are the latest participants in a longstanding tradition of students delivering Commencement addresses. Courtesy of Nick Dentamaro/Brown University

Marielle Buxbaum ’24: Being ambitious about friendship

Marielle Buxbaum ’24 did not write her Commencement speech locked away in the library. Instead, she was with friends watching “Riverdale.”
On a tight deadline to submit a speech for consideration, Buxbaum hoped that watching the show would inspire her. While the series takes endless dramatic turns, Riverdale at its heart is a show about friends.

Buxbaum’s speech — one of two student speeches chosen by the University for Commencement — centers around being ambitious in friendships.

Brown does not traditionally bring an outside speaker to Commencement ceremonies, giving the role to students. Guest speakers typically deliver speeches at the Baccalaureate Service. Jessica Meir '99, a National Aeronautics and Space Administration astronaut, will address the service Saturday.

Buxbaum hopes that her speech is celebratory, inspiring and actionable. The class of 2024, she said, had to work intentionally to make friends when it entered Brown at the heights of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ve seen what it’s like to be deprived of socialization,” she said.

But the experience helped forge special bonds, Buxbaum explained. In her speech, she will urge the class of 2024 to bring that spirit of intentionality beyond College Hill.

“Friendship becomes less central in your life after college,” she said, noting that the United States is in a loneliness epidemic.

Brown students enter the world with a wide breadth of ambitions, Buxbaum said. But she argues they shouldn’t forget to be ambitious about friendship.

“Let’s change what friendship means by finding unique and special ways to be a part of each other’s lives,” Buxbaum said.

In her junior spring, Buxbaum studied abroad in Ecuador, a country known for its collectivist culture. The experience gave her a newfound appreciation for the community at Brown.

“At a place like Brown, it’s so collaborative,” she said.

The class of 2024’s unique introduction to college life makes them particularly committed to fostering community, Buxbaum said. She recalled a play put on by students from across the first-year class. That play was an aberration from typical years when students split off into different theater groups.

But the pandemic created unique circumstances, Buxbaum said, remembering sweltering summer rehearsals fondly. “Everything felt so unusual and special.”

When the Class of 2024 leaves Brown, Buxbaum hopes they “keep that outside-the-box spirit.”

“We’re used to the idea that social structures are fixed,” Buxbaum said. She believes the class of 2024 has gotten the chance to upend them, though. “I see a lot of upstart spirit in our grade.”

As her class’s time on campus comes to a close, Buxbaum hopes that Brunonians can imagine a life centered around friendships and overcoming “harmful social structures.”

“I’m inspired to see the ways that people will be the architects of their own lives, out of a true intention of their desires,” she said. She hopes her peers opt “to connect no matter what.”

Caziah Mayers ’24: ‘Keep moving forward’

Caziah Mayers ’24 will tell a story about “overcoming and having gratitude through the process of overcoming,” they said.

“It’s very hard to remember the things that you have and what you still have potential to do …. when you’re in the midst of real chaos and strife,” they said.

In the spring of 2021, instead of starting their second semester at Brown, Mayers found themselves in Brooklyn, working three jobs and taking care of their family.

“It was really hard to be excited and to have this mentality of ‘I’m still lucky,’” they said.

In their sophomore year, Mayers found “people to lean on” — and learned how to lean on them. They delved into poetry and joined Word!, a poetry space for queer students as well as Black and Indigineous people of color.

“I was surrounded by this community of people who were way ahead in their understanding of gender and sexuality and what it means to be otherwise, especially as a Black person at a place like Brown and how they’ve incorporated their art into their lives,” they recalled.

Mayers said that one of their proudest moments at Brown was reviving the group Students of Caribbean Ancestry. “I missed the connection to home that I’d had being in New York,” they said.

In embracing different elements of their identity, Mayers said they aimed to create a space for others to do the same.

“Hypermasculinity and homophobia are mobilized in various Caribbean cultures,” they said. As president of SOCA, Mayers wanted to build a space “where people could be themselves and be Carribean in whatever capacity that meant for them.”

Mayers experienced tragedy their junior year, as their mother passed away following a battle with cancer. They learned the news in a seminar, where they had two friends who are Black and masculine-presenting.

“There’s a certain sort of playbook of how you’re supposed to behave as a black man,” they said.

But their friends did not pull from that playbook, Mayers said.

“It was really beautiful … to be in this space where we’re all holding each other and I can cry.”

Mayers described the moment as “another testament” to the importance of building community and “leaning into your strengths.”

Following their mother’s passing, Mayers reconnected with art and took a step back from other commitments. They wrote poetry and music, including an album. “That time actually gave me the space to feel what I needed to feel and handle what I need to handle but also space to pour into art again.”

During this time, Mayers wrote and performed poems around campus and Providence, where some attendees would donate to a GoFundMe to help Mayers fund logistical support for their family.

The Commencement speech, Mayers said, offers an opportunity for them to express gratitude for what they’ve done at Brown — and what the Brown community has in turn given back to them.

“I’ve become the person that I was dreaming about when I was first thinking about what it would mean to be at Brown,” they said.
Mayers gave three words to summarize their speech: “Keep moving forward.”


Ryan Doherty

Ryan Doherty is a Section Editor covering faculty, higher education and science & research. He is a sophomore concentrating in chemistry and economics who likes to partially complete crosswords in his free time.


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