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Behind the Tassel: New Graduates of American University Reveal How They Hope to Change the World


American University student commencement speakers and AU President's Award winner


May 8, 2018 - May 13, 2018


As graduation nears, American University students share their backstories and their inspiring plans.

Mary-Margaret Koch of Elmhurst, IL, will graduate with dual degrees in Political Science and Communications Studies. Koch worked with student government to create student mental-health programs at AU. She has interned on Capitol Hill and at the National Partnership for Women & Families. Please follow this link to learn more about Mary-Margaret's research into student mental health issues.

Mary-Margaret says: "The greatest lesson of my four years at American is the value of community - on campus and beyond. Our communities must not be monolithic - we should not be afraid of dialogue even in this polarized time. I'm hoping to utilize my knowledge and experiences I gained at AU to be able to create a more community-driven world."

Lauren Lumpkin of Cleveland, OH, is one of 10 nationally selected fellows for Black On Campus, an initiative led by The Nation. She is also editor-in-chief of The Blackprint, a publication founded by the American University Association of Black Journalists, and an intern at the Washington Post's Metro desk. Lauren will graduate with a degree in Public Relations/Strategic Communication, with minors in Marketing & Chinese, and plans to pursue a career in journalism.

Lauren says: "I love the School of Communication because every student cares about something. Whether it's covering environmental justice protests outside the White House or combating racism on campus, we each feel a sense of responsibility to leave this place a little better than we found it."

Sgt. Agnes Sagina of St. Michael's, AZ, will graduate from the School of International Service and receive a Master of Arts in International Affairs. Before coming to AU, she served in the United States Marine Corps on four continents and currently works at the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.

Agnes says: "My experience at AU has forced me to reexamine my view of the world and I believe I now have an outlook that is more expansive, open, and optimistic." In her commencement speech, Agnes, who is Navajo and grew up on the Navajo Nation in Arizona, will bring attention to the famous Navajo Code Talkers who served during the Second World War. "I believe that there aren't enough Native American voices in public and foreign policy. There should be more diversity in the voices shared and heard when it comes to facing the challenges of today."

Shyheim Snead of Bridgeport, CT, has received this year's President's Award, the highest distinction for a graduating senior at American University that recognizes an undergraduate whose accomplishments are truly exceptional and represent the highest ideals of AU. Shyheim is a Truman scholar, Frederick Douglass Distinguished Scholar, student trustee, Kennedy Political Union director, and has an estimated 3.85 GPA. While at AU, Snead and other FDDS students sought to give underprivileged kids a taste of college life. They brought 100 students from a local public school to campus, where they took a tour, visited the dining hall, and asked questions. Shyheim is the first awardee in the tenure of AU president Sylvia Mathews Burwell. Please follow this link to learn more about Shyheim Snead's experience at AU.

Kristen Stevens of Mount Vernon, WA, who will receive her MA in Public Administration, has served as Government Affairs Officer for The HALO Trust that works to clear land mines from former combat zones around the world. On campus, she has done everything from serving as Academic Chair on the School of Public Affairs Graduate Student Council to teaching Zumba classes. She is a recipient of the AU Merit Scholarship and the Dorothy Walker Stapleton Scholarship.

Kristen says: "During my time at SPA, I learned everything one needs to know to run an organization effectively. In addition, I completed coursework related to my passion for international conflict resolution and nuclear weapons policy. With this knowledge and these skills, I hope to serve the public by working for an international NGO or the State Department to prevent and address conflict, provide humanitarian aid to post-conflict societies, or facilitate a global reduction in nuclear weapons."

Ray Uyeda will receive a bachelor's degree in Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies from the College of Arts and Sciences. Uyeda is an honors student with a 3.76 GPA. Uyeda was an American University Experience (AUx) Student Educator, where she drafted and executed a weekly lesson plan regarding identity and inequality for first year cohort of eight students and mentored freshmen students in and out of the classroom for personal and professional development. She is deeply engaged, both inside and outside the classroom-and in making our world a better place. She volunteered as a field organizer for the 2017 U.S. presidential campaign, interned for the Human Rights Campaign, organized events to raise awareness for adult illiteracy, and worked passionately on issues ranging from green bike lanes to women's rights in the workplace.

Watch AU Commencement Livestream here. Learn about 2018 AU Student Award Recipients here.