Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Tuesday, May 12, 2020

'Even the playing field for all people,' 2020 student speaker urges fellow grads

'Even the playing field for all people,' 2020 student speaker urges fellow grads

About the Class of 2020

Graduates 51
MPA: 41
MIPA: 10
Men: 23
Women: 28
States: 14
Countries: 2


Eleanor Pratt (MPA) – Director’s Achievement Award for her outstanding academic record and her initiative and professionalism as a La Follette School student.

Hayley Young (MPA, MPH) – Penniman Prize for the best paper demonstrating the School’s writing and analytic tools. The Regulation of Dietary Supplements in the United States, nominated by Associate Professor Yang Wang.

Laura Bunn (MIPA) – Piore Prize for Best Paper in Science and Public Policy. Addressing Data Privacy Laws, nominated by Professor Greg Nemet

Dual and double degrees; certificates

Master of public health (MPH): 

  • Yixuan Cheng (MIPA/MPH)
  • Annette Crawford (MPA/MPH)
  • Hayley Young (MPA/MPH)

Neuroscience (PhD): 

  • Brian Barnett (MPA/NPP)

Certificate in Energy, Analysis, and Policy: 

  • Will Henkes (MPA/EAP)
  • Yining Zhou (MPA/EAP)

Master of Science in Urban and Regional Planning: 

  • Abigail Buta (MPA/URPL)
  • Rachel Ramthun (MPA/URPL)

Certificate in Business, Environment, and Social Responsibility: 

  • Fiona Montie (MPA/BESR)
  • Yining Zhou (MPA/BESR)


  • Jackson Parr, MPA/Water Resources Management (WRM)
As the La Follette School’s Class of 2020 graduation speaker, Shireen Ohadi-Hamadani reflected on her grandmother’s life and envisioned a more just and equitable society. Ohadi-Hamadani said via video that she decided to attend the La Follette School to protect people like her grandmother.

“She was defined by a life of poverty, she lived on a reservation, she was assimilated, and at a young age she was sent to an Indian boarding school where she was not taught to read and write but to be a homemaker and to be a maid,” Ohadi-Hamadani shared with 50 fellow members of the Class of 2020 as well as La Follette School faculty, staff, and other students.

“I decided to study public policy at the La Follette School to make sure that if my Grandma were to be born today, or if she were to be born 10 years from now, that she would have the opportunity to embrace her heritage, to embrace her culture, that she would be able to freely speak her language, that she would have the ability to pursue a higher education, that she would have the ability to obtain a living wage, that she would have access to healthcare, and that she could raise children in a world that is able to adequately combat climate change,” she said.

In her admissions essay, Ohadi-Hamadani wrote about “the delicate culture of the Muscogee tribe” through her mother’s lineage and her father’s “turbulent experience as an Iranian immigrant in America. Whether it is my personal perspective or my work to promote self-determination in the Navajo Nation, I experience how crucial effective governance is to the lives of vulnerable populations.”

Ohadi-Hamadani challenged her fellow graduates to “always advocate for populations that are not represented in policy, to research groups of people that policy has discriminated against, to always include populations that have been deemed statistically insignificant due to small population size. And, to consider populations that have to lose when we make our tradeoffs.”

As future policymakers, researchers, and leaders, La Follette School alumni have the responsibility to ensure a more just and equitable society, Ohadi-Hamadani said. “It’s up to us as La Follette alums to make sure that we can even the playing field for all people.”

Associate Professor Lindsay Jacobs – the student-selected faculty speaker – also spoke to the Class of 2020 via video. For most members of the Class of 2020, Jacobs welcomed them to the La Follette School during Microeconomic Policy Analysis (PA 880).

“It has been so wonderful to get to know you as students and since then, really getting to see the fruits of all the skills that you’ve honed,” said Jacobs. “You all should be so proud of yourselves, and I hope that you get a moment and soak it all in and delight in all the connections you’ve made and the skills that you’ve gained.”