Dean's Welcome, President's Remarks, and Graduate Address

Dean's Welcome

Good morning, and welcome to our celebration. I am Nancy Staudt, the Frank and Marcia Carlucci Dean at the Pardee RAND Graduate School.

Today is not just a remarkable day—it is a milestone for all of us gathered here, but especially for our graduates and their loved ones.

Today we celebrate the academic achievements of 37 doctoral students and 54 master’s students in Policy Analysis.

Each of you has shown exceptional dedication and intellectual rigor.

What an accomplishment of endurance and hard work. Perhaps that's why I've personally observed you arriving early to campus, departing late and of course drinking LOTS of coffee ... and tea ... and hot chocolate at our RANDevous Café.

You have worked hard to achieve these milestones!

To our staff, faculty, proud family members, and supportive friends and colleagues, none of today’s achievements would have been possible without you. Congratulations to you for all of your hard work.

As we gather today, on the brink of new beginnings, it's a time of change and perhaps also some uncertainty. These times can be unnerving, but they can also be a catalysts for growth and excitement. Sometimes change opens new and exciting pathways never before imagined.

Graduates, you have undergone significant changes. You’ve sharpened your analytic skills, contributed to some of the most important policy issues of the day, and built lasting connections. And let's not forget, you took the bold step to unionize. You are not afraid to change. Your journey has been transformative. You’ve moved from students into world-ready professionals.

Our school is also evolving and changing. We’ve not only broadened our physical presence with a new campus in the Washington, D.C., we've also expanded our academic horizons with the new Master of National Security.

Like you, our school has faced challenges and bumps. But just as you have embraced changes and grown through it, so too, our institution.

In a world rife with challenges—be it environmental sustainability, national security, social justice, health, or education—you are not just participants in this wave of change; you are driving it.

In a world where complex problems intertwine, where the edges are blurred by emotion, partisanship, and urgency, you not only have the tools to address these challenges, you have the vision to drive transformation. And in a world where we need more RAND-trained minds, you have the ability to inform and elevate public discourse. You have a deep understanding of how data lend weight to research findings. And you are equipped to maintain objectivity and impartiality along the way.

I’ve witnessed how so many of you have already begun the hard work of improving our world.

For example, Annie Chen, you have pioneered new microsimulation models in Taiwan to predict and paint a clearer picture of how dementia might evolve in our society. And this is not just about numbers. This is about planning a better future for millions of people. Annie, congratulations!

M. Avriette, you explored the link between military readiness and public health, showcasing the importance of strategic health policies for national defense. Your research highlights the imperative for strong policies that protect servicemembers and ensure global security along the way. Congratulations M!

Moon Kim, you moved beyond conventional boundaries to strategize public-private partnerships in space exploration. Your insights have helped shape the narrative for the next frontier of cooperation and competition in the context of space policy. And your work is continuing today with your job at NASA headquarters. Well done, Moon!

Hamad Al-Ibrahim, you weighed in on the AI debates, not just to participate but to lead the conversation. You explored how AI could revolutionize the efficacy of public funding agencies, turning them from bureaucratic behemoths into dynamic facilitators of public good. And people, only at Pardee RAND could a surgeon be trained to become a python programmer, policy analyst, and write a dissertation on the impact of artificial intelligence. Congratulations, Hamad, you make us proud!

These are just a few examples of the breadth and depth of our students’ expertise and their commitment to addressing the most pressing issues of our day.

Congratulations to our students on the change you are making and the skills you have already developed. As you step into a future filled with unknowns, remember that each uncertainty is a canvas for innovation.

Some of you already know the paths you will take and have accepted positions as researchers, leaders, and consultants with influential organizations like the World Bank, NASA, Princeton, the University of Southern California as well as the U.S. Air Force. And even RAND. Some of you will continue into Ph.D. programs, both here at Pardee RAND and elsewhere.

And for those of you who are still contemplating your next steps—which is its own kind of change—know that your “Pardee RAND Powers” are a force for good no matter where your journey leads.

And when you all step into your new positions, if someone asks a challenging question, and they will, you will not give an off-the-cuff response. Well, instead being a RANDite, you will probably begin by saying, “well ... it depends.” But then, of course, you will conduct a systematic, rigorous study, with data and objectivity, to help change the world.

And as you move along to your next adventure, remember: you will always be a part of our community—a vast network of policy experts, enduring friendships, and a shared vision for driving change. Whether you are far or near, we look forward to welcoming you home any time.

As you step forward into your next chapter and encounter future areas of uncertainty, I hope you will hold tight to to the reasons that drew you here in the first place. Curiosity is in your DNA—it led you to Pardee RAND and will continue to drive you to question, challenge, and learn.

After several years on campus, you not only adapted to change—you’ve been the architects of change. You’ve collaborated with peers, faculty, and staff with diverse backgrounds and on a diverse range of projects. Pardee RAND graduates, two things are clear. One, you are brilliant, and two, you can do change.

And let’s not forget, you’ve mastered the art of celebration. Of course, we all know how much you love Professor Phil Armour’s 3rd floor courtyard parties. And while Phil may not be able to provide all the homemade bread and wine tastings as often as you like, I hope you will continue to celebrate every victory you have, big and small, wherever you are—still on campus, or afar.

Graduates, we are excited to watch what you will do next, and how you will to turn uncertainty and change into opportunity and adventure.

Congratulations to our Pardee RAND graduates!

President's Remarks by Jason Matheny

Congratulations, graduates! I know it has been a long climb today, one of many climbs to come in your life. I’m in awe of what you have achieved in the years past, and I'm filled with confidence about what you will achieve in the years ahead.

You are here because you have a sense of optimistic urgency and believe that the world's problems have a better chance of being solved when you analyze them rigorously.

Seeing your talent is one of the reasons that, like Nancy, I’m hopeful about the future.

Pardee RAND was founded 54 years ago when our researchers foresaw that the increasing need for agile problem-solvers was going to expand as the world's challenges increased in both scope and complexity.

The idea was to create a unique learning institution that integrated the RAND mission with academic studies, that connected students with our experts to blend coursework with real-world policy analysis.

The goal was to motivate students, to accelerate knowledge sharing, and shape world-class problem-solvers who emerge from their studies ready to take on the biggest challenges.

Back then, these were radical ideas and Pardee RAND began as an imaginative experiment—without control groups.

Today, the school is a central part of our institution and of our impact.

During your time at Pardee RAND, you've learned from RAND experts, you've experienced firsthand the importance of careful analysis, a commitment to objectivity, and an ability to think logically from first principles, often under immense pressure.

With your skills, you’re able to place objectivity above opinion, you're able to rely on data rather than on first impressions, and you're able to design evidence-based policies to take on the world’s biggest problems.

The world has no shortage of problems, and we don't have a map for what the next 5, 10, or 50 years will bring. But I have confidence that you're the people who will help the world navigate these years ahead, with your analytic skills and with your sense of public purpose. Congratulations, and thank you in advance for saving the world.

Graduate Address by Gabriela Alvarado

Good morning fellow graduates, friends, family, faculty, members of the Pardee RAND community, and everyone who has been a part of this amazing journey!

It is a such a privilege to have been selected by my peers to be Commencement Graduate Speaker, so I wanted to return the honor and share this space with the rest of you. I decided to approach this speech in the most RAND-like way possible: I turned it into a qualitative research project.

I know what my personal experiences have been, my ups and downs, but I wondered what the collective experiences of all of us here today were.

So I sat down, I brainstormed some questions, and I put together an interview protocol—thankfully I was able to skip IRB—and I set out to recruit some interview participants. As is the case with most research projects, recruitment was really a challenge!

Nonetheless, I was able to interview a good sample of fellow Ph.D. graduates with solid representation across cohorts. Your research brain may be asking, how do you know it was a good sample, Gaby? Well, as the committed researcher that I am, I made sure to audio record and transcribe all of my interviews. I uploaded them into Dedoose, which is a qualitative research analysis software. I developed a codebook and analyzed each interview as it occurred. And I am very pleased to report that I rapidly achieved thematic saturation. I felt confident enough to cease recruitment efforts and I shifted to my formal write up.

Before I share my very rigorous research findings, I want to thank you, my fellow graduates, who took the time to share their stories with me. I won’t be sharing individual names, but I hope you can figure out your bits throughout the speech.

Overall, I found two main themes. The first theme is that we came here because we want to make a difference in the world—we also want those magic letters at the end of our name—but mostly, we really care about certain issues and wanted the tools to “be the answer.” The second theme is that the people and the relationships we have built over the years are what have made the PRGS experience different from anything else we’ve experienced in our lives.

During my interviews with fellow Ph.D. graduates my first question was, why even get a Ph.D.? For me, it was a windy trajectory, starting in medicine, passing through public health, a brief stint in anthropology, and finally landing at the realization that a policy lens is needed to effect the type of change I wanted to see in the world. I used to think it was cliché to say that I do what I do because I want to make the world a better place, but in talking to my fellow graduates I realized I’m not alone. Consistently, people shared stories of wanting to make sense of the problems they saw in the world around them and contribute to better research. Of course, there were other responses, like “being sick of engineering,” and “wanting to shift from a paper pusher to a decision maker.”

The type of person who ends up coming to Pardee RAND is unique with traits that were embedded in our personalities from a very young age. One of the people I spoke to shared that as a kid they were very into student government. They ran on a platform to get rid of drug testing in high school sports. They said, they felt it was not a good idea, because if you are getting into drugs, then sports are the only thing that may keep you out of trouble. Now if that isn’t a future Pardee RAND grad in the making, I don’t know what is!

We had an interesting set of career aspirations in our group—including musical theatre, being a rockstar, a businessperson. One person shared that what most resonated with them was the story from the Sword in the Stone where Merlin turns King Arthur into different things like a fish or a squirrel to learn about different perspectives in life and reach their full potential. And that’s we ended up doing here at PRGS. We were given the opportunity to see the world through a qualitative lens, through quantitative approaches, different topic areas such as education, labor, health, climate change, and defense. And all of these diverse experiences changed the way we see the world and how we tackle policy issues.

We all have such a desire to make the world a better place that I wondered, if we had a superpower, what would it be, and how would we use it? For me, it would be the time turner device from Harry Potter—because I always want to do more than I reasonably have time for. A time turner would allow me to do all the things I really want to do!

Among my peers here, there was a commonality here seemed to be the desire to bring people closer together and help people find create common ground. People had different approaches to achieving this, one person explained it could be achieved by the power of seamless communication or knowing how to speak every single language in the world. Others described their superpower as being able to project love onto the minds of others. Another person said they would help people build empathy.

However, there was one person with a unique approach to creating common ground. It seems, we may potentially have a supervillain in our midst. They said their superpower would be mind control. But fret not, thankfully this supervillain has a Ph.D. from PRGS, and they stated that they would be an evidence-based supervillain. They would have a steering council and have all these experts, and they would control peoples’ minds based on their recommendations.

And so, all of us aspiring singers, rockstars, doctors, and fish, and supervillains ended up coming to PRGS. And we really would not have made it to the end without our support networks. Personally, I would like to thank my family. My mom for teaching me the value of education, my dad for showing me what true kindness looks like, and my wonderful husband, for putting up with my squirrel-like attention span and inability to maintain a reasonable workload. Thank you for being my biggest cheerleader, believing in me more than I believe in myself. Thank you for bringing food to my desk when I do 24-hour work marathons and for fueling my Diet Coke addiction. And my biggest motivator of all—he can’t understand any of this right now, but my baby Ben has really been the one to push me over the finish line. Not only did I want to get this done so I could spend more time with him, but I really want to make the world a better place for him to live in.

We all had our support systems at RAND as well: people who believed in us, mentored us, lifted us up, and gave us a seat at the table. During my conversations with fellow Ph.D. grads, some of the specific names that came up included Dave Baiocchi, Marielena Lara, Dwayne Butler, Nicole Eberhart, Lindsay Daugherty, David Powell, Zach Wagner, Chloe Bird—and the person most consistently mentioned across cohorts: Gery Ryan. Gery is so appreciated by everyone, and he has had the wonderful ability to keep us motivated, not let us get bogged down, and make us feel deserving and like we belong to be here. To all of you, thank you.

There are also the wonderful relationships we’ve developed over the years. I have to hand it to Stefanie and the rest of the admissions team – because you did a wonderful job at preselecting my friends for me. And I know I am not alone in that feeling. As I spoke to my fellow graduates, I learned that they also felt immediately like they were surrounded by their kind of people. As adults, it’s hard to develop new friendships, but fortunately we were put into an environment full of people who are kind and care about those around them. The friendships that we've created here are truly for life.

Thanks to these support systems we have been able to do amazing things during our time here at Pardee RAND. We’ve all have our ups and downs, but we’ve also had the opportunity to grow and learn and put our names on things we are very proud of. One person had the opportunity to return to their home country and conduct research through RAND there. Others have been able to be a part of a project from start to finish—from the proposal phase, all the way through data collection and analysis. Traveling to support post-disaster relief efforts. Working with impactful nonprofits. And learning new skills such as coding. All these things have prepared us well for the next steps, and a lot of us are already doing it. We have people in their post-docs, think tanks, federal government, and even one grad who has started their own consulting business. I am so excited to continue to follow all of you and all the wonderful things I am certain you will contribute to the world.

To wrap up, I want to leave with some encouragement for our M.Phil. graduates, as today they complete a well-deserved milestone on their way to their Ph.D. When asking the other Ph.D. grads if they had any advice, most of them wanted to urge M.Phil.s to “just chill out.” We don’t need to be in such a rush to finish, and a lot of us have found that the journey is part of the process and that even the challenging parts serve a purpose to the broader story. Because remember, “it’s a system!”

Thank you.