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Vulakh ’24: Looking beyond the Van Wickle Gates and Brunonia’s halls

This weekend marks the culmination of years of hard work, dedication, personal — and for many — financial sacrifices. Our graduation not only celebrates academic achievements but also honors the resilience, growth and transformation that each of us has undergone during our time at Brown.

In the last several years we have been part of an incredibly diverse community of scholars and professionals. This community has given us the opportunity to speak with people different from ourselves. It has exposed us to new concepts and issues, and it has pushed us outside of our comfort zones.

In the midst of a charged political climate, multiple wars and a world in flux that continue to impact us all deeply on campus and many of our families, we have been challenged to ask difficult questions, to be objective and yet empathetic and to listen to the stories and experiences of others.

I will start with a piece of my story. My family is from Russia and Ukraine. Some of my family members died in the pogroms and the Holocaust. My parents and grandparents moved to the United States from the former Soviet Union as refugees escaping antisemitism and religious persecution. The conflicts in Israel and Ukraine have impacted me deeply, and my heart is with my family members and friends, as well as those of my peers, who are in Ukraine, Israel, Gaza and so many other parts of the world that are experiencing war and dislocation.

We all have our own paths and stories. But regardless of religion, ethnicity, race or even political affiliation, we are one community. On campus, although we have experienced heightened tensions, we have been called upon to navigate our differences, think critically and listen compassionately.

And though our backgrounds and opinions may differ, many of our experiences here at Brown have been shared. From meeting each other for the first time in online game nights and Zoom classes during the height of COVID-19, to forming friend “pods” in dorm hallways with masks on our faces and eating Ratty to-go meals six feet apart, look how far we’ve come and how we’ve grown. We’ve all formed incredibly strong bonds and created many memories and fond stories of our Brown experiences.

To share some of these memories, I want to relate many of our long-time traditions to our Alma Mater…

“Alma Mater! we hail thee with loyal devotion,
And bring to thine altar our off ’ring of praise;
Our hearts swell within us, with joyful emotion,
As the name of old Brown in loud chorus we raise.
The happiest moments of youth’s fleeting hours,
We’ve passed, ’neath the shade of these time-honored walls,
And sorrows as transient as April’s brief showers
Have clouded our life in Brunonia’s halls.”

“In loud chorus” we’ve let out our darkest fears and worries together in the Primal Scream. During Spring Weekend our hearts indeed “swelled within us with joyful emotion” as we sang and danced our hearts out in the rain, stamping out “sorrows as transient as April’s brief showers.” And, oh yes, some of the “happiest moments of youth’s fleeting hours” were spent together in one too many a line waiting for yogurt and burrito bowls at Andrews, a seat in the Organ Concert at Sayles Hall, Courses@Brown course registration, or our favorite, the housing lottery — thanks, ResLife! But through it all, we had each other.

And the bonds, solidified through shared triumphs and challenges, will serve as the foundation upon which we build our futures, ensuring that the spirit of camaraderie and collaboration we have cultivated at Brown remains an integral part of our journey beyond these “time-honored walls.”

Now, as we step into the wider world, let’s commit to seek truth and amplify unheard voices. As future leaders, let us cultivate a society founded on empathy, respect and honest storytelling. In the grand tapestry of life, each of our paths and stories will shape our shared humanity.

We may have differing perspectives on the world, but time and time again we came together despite this. As we embark on our next life chapter beyond the Van Wickle Gates and Brunonia’s halls, let’s bring this same energy into a future filled with endless possibilities. In the words of the great civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, “Peace is not merely the absence of some negative force — war, tension, confusion, but it is the presence of some positive force — justice, goodwill, the power of the kingdom of God.” As Brown graduates, let’s spread that positive force. I challenge us to teach others how to have difficult conversations. Show our colleagues and friends how to listen and engage with people of other identities. Let’s prove to everyone how much stronger we as a society can be when we leverage the power of our differences to transform our world, together.

Gabriella Vulakh is a graduating senior in Brown's class of 2024 and a former Herald senior science and research editor.


Gabriella Vulakh

Gabriella is the Senior Science & Research Editor of The Brown Daily Herald. She is a junior from San Francisco studying neuroscience on the premedical track. 


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