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Sanford Celebrates the Class of 2024

The Sanford School of Public Policy graduation ceremonies on May 10 recognized more than 300 graduates from six academic programs this spring:

  • Executive Master of National Security Policy (MNSP);
  • International Master of Environmental Policy (IMEP);
  • Master of International Development Policy (MIDP);
  • Master of Public Policy (MPP);
  • Public Policy doctoral program (PhD); and
  • Public Policy undergraduate major (PPS).


Graduate Degree Ceremony Overview


Woman smiling and looking caring in cap and gown, others behind her chering
Judith Kelley, Dean of the Sanford School of Public Policy

Both the graduate (9AM) and undergraduate (1PM) ceremonies were introduced by Sanford Dean Judith Kelley. She began her remarks by connecting the graduating students to an ancient story of the “red thread” told through ancient Greek mythology, relating it to the thread of community that will always guide Sanford graduates back to their common roots.

As new members of the 9,500-plus Sanford alumni population that spans over 100 countries, Kelley reminded graduates of the lifetime of aspirations and expectations that await Sanford students.

Her address was punctuated by the inclusion of an actual red ribbon in each student program, a reminder not only of the Greek reference but also of her own Danish heritage, “The story of Theseus and Adriadne’s thread was part of the inspiration for what has become a concept in Scandinavian countries, including Denmark, my home country. “Den røde tråd.” The red thread,” said Kelley.

Distinguished Alumni Speaker Ryan Smith, MPP’14


The Distinguished Alumni Speaker was Ryan Smith, MPP’14. Currently serving as the Innovation Team Project Manager for the City of Durham, Smith delivered a poignant speech to the graduating class of 2024, reflecting on his journey and sharing insights gleaned from his experiences. Smith, who leads a rapidly growing department, expressed his deep honor in addressing the class and welcomed them as fellow alumni. He compared the graduates to his own team and welcomed them as alums. "I’m so glad you’re a part of our team. And I’m excited for what we can accomplish with the addition of your heart, talents, and experience that we could not have otherwise,” said Smith.

Reflecting on his own journey, Smith shared instances where he found purpose and joy in serving his community. He recounted initiatives such as the development of a legal services program, collaboration with formerly incarcerated individuals, and leading a branch of public safety focused on compassionate responses to behavioral health crises. Through these experiences, Smith emphasized the fulfillment derived from making a positive impact on society.

Smith acknowledged the inevitability of facing difficult days and encouraged the graduates to embrace them. He shared two guiding principles for navigating challenging times: drawing near to those impacted by their work and taking action despite limitations. "When you are working on really challenging issues, you have to make sure you’re taking time to draw close and center those most impacted and marginalized,” Smith expressed.

Drawing from his work with the Durham Community Safety Department, Smith emphasized the importance of empathizing with marginalized communities and centering their experiences in policymaking. He shared the story of Martin, a homeless individual struggling with mental illness, to illustrate the significance of understanding individual needs and addressing systemic barriers.

Smith emphasized the role of leadership in mobilizing collective efforts to address societal challenges. He recounted how his team collaborated with various stakeholders to establish emergency shelters for the homeless during cold weather, demonstrating the power of unified action in effecting change. "Leadership is about the ability to bring people together around a common challenge and finding a way forward, drawing upon the group’s collective power, resources, and talent."

Finally, Smith encouraged the graduates to celebrate small victories and to remain connected to their support networks. He emphasized the importance of cherishing every step forward and expressed optimism for the graduates' future endeavors.

"Don’t take the small wins for granted. Celebrate every step you can along the way."

Read more about Ryan Smith. 

2024 Richard Stubbing Award: Professor Mallory SoRelle


Mallory SoRelle with Senior Associate Dean of Faculty Manoj Mohanan.

Professor Mallory SoRelle won the 2024 Stubbing Award for teaching and mentoring graduate students. The award recognizes outstanding contributions to the school's graduate programs and commitment to the personal and professional development of their students.  

Senior Associate Dean of Faculty Manoj Mohanan announced the award during the 2024 Graduate Commencement ceremony, congratulating SoRelle for her extraordinary care for students and the greater Sanford community.

This award, established in honor of the late Richard Stubbing (a celebrated Sanford professor), is nominated by graduate students. SoRelle received numerous nominations, one of which included this summary of SoRelle's excellence in teaching.

“Professor Mallory SoRelle is deeply committed to teaching at all levels. This semester, she created a new undergraduate course on policy feedback with a hands-on survey lab component. She also teaches a core course for PhD first-year students, laying the foundation for a successful PhD journey. For me personally, she has been invaluable in terms of my professional and personal development. I would not be finishing my PhD this year with a tenure-track position without her.”

Read more about SoRelle and the Stubbing Award. 

3 PhDs awarded



Undergraduate Degree Ceremony Overview

Undergraduate Speaker: Laya Sathyan


Undergraduate speaker Laya Sathyan emphasized potential for positive change.

Laya Sathyan delivered Sanford’s 2024 student address. As a graduating student focused on Public Policy and Global Health, she began by expressing her gratitude for the opportunity to address her fellow graduates, faculty, and guests, reflecting on her journey since arriving at Duke in 2020. "If you're like me, you graduated high school by reaching for your diploma out of your car window, like picking up a hashbrown at the McDonalds drive-through,” said Sathyan, eliciting laughter from her classmates.

From there, Sathyan acknowledged the transformative power of her education at Duke and Sanford, emphasizing the importance of embracing change. She highlighted the impact of the pandemic on their academic journey and personal growth, noting the resilience required to navigate through unfamiliar circumstances. She compared her personal change to the potential for change in all people. "Sanford has changed all of us, in our maturity, capabilities, and understandings of the world,” she pointed out. "I hope we can all run towards [change] rather than away."

To illustrate this, Sathyan shared a powerful anecdote about Durham racial justice advocate Ann Atwater and C.P. Ellis, the former leader of the Durham Ku Klux Klan, demonstrating the transformative potential of forgiveness in overcoming deep-seated differences. She emphasized the importance of forgiveness as a catalyst for progress and unity in a divided world.

"Society has become more divisive and fragmented than ever before. We are encouraged to hate and to hate blindly with no compassion for those on the other side. As Sanford graduates, we have the power to either further this divide or bridge it."

In her closing remarks, Sathyan urged her fellow graduates to honor their education and continue the legacy of Sanford by advocating for positive change. She emphasized the importance of forgiveness, self-reflection, and the belief in the capacity for personal and societal transformation. "In a world that is marked by division, to love and forgive is a radical act,” said Sathyan.

She finished again encouraging the audience to embrace change. “I ask my classmates, the class of 2024, for one thing. Do not leave Sanford behind. This graduation marks our transformation from students into policymakers, advocates, and leaders. As you move forward into the next stage of your lives, I ask you to honor the gift that was our education here, and to carry Sanford, and everything this school stands for into the future. I ask you to remember the importance of forgiveness, to others and to yourself. And I ask you to remember that everyone has the capacity to change.”

Read more about Laya Sathyan. 

Fleishman Award Winner (Highest Grade Point Average)


Katie Heath, Hannah Galdes, Grace Endrud and Anisha Reddy posing with Sanford's founding director Joel Fleishman for whom the award is named.

Best Honors Thesis: Christina Wang


Christina Wang is Sanford’s 2024 Best Thesis winner with an Honors Thesis titled "What Do Americans Think Democracy Means?” which includes research that reflects her dedication to understanding democratic principles and amplifying the voices of the American people. Read more about Christina and her research.

Featured Video

2024 Terry Sanford Leadership Award Winner: Grace Endrud

Grace is one of two 2024 Terry Sanford Leadership Award winners, a prestigious award for public policy undergraduates at Duke. She says when she first came to Duke, she didn’t see herself as a leader, instead she focused on her work in the classroom. But when she applied for Duke’s Nakayama Public Service Scholars program, something clicked.

Featured Video

2024 Terry Sanford Leadership Award Winner: Chloe Nguyen

Chloe Nguyen is one of two winners of the 2024 Terry Sanford Leadership Award. Chloe is passionate about understanding the psychological drivers of intergroup conflict like political polarization and developing interventions to address them. 


More awards

  • Charles B. Rangel Fellowship: Manon Fuchs
  • Critical Language Scholarship: Manon Fuchs, Charles Hester and Samyuktha Sreeram
  • Schwarzman Scholarship: Sejal Mayer-Patel
  • Gaither Junior Fellowship: Kristin Zhu
  • Fulbright Scholarship: Andrew Greene

Watch Fleishman and Terry Sanford Leadership Award Winners on stage.

Tifft Teaching Award: Lisa Gennetian


Named after the esteemed Susan Tifft, the Eugene C. Patterson Professor of the Practice of Communications and Journalism, this award celebrates educators who excel in guiding and nurturing undergraduate students.

Students nominated Lisa Gennetian for the 2024 award, and the praise for her instruction was glowing. Gennetian is Pritzker Professor of Early Learning Policy Studies at Sanford and is an applied economist who studies how poverty and policy interventions to alleviate it affect children’s development, education, and other outcomes.

Gennetian teaches the core microeconomics course for Sanford undergraduates. The many students who nominated her for this award praised her ability to make economics less daunting by engaging the class with accessible real-world examples, including from her own research.

The nominations called her a “phenomenal” and “passionate” teacher who cares deeply about her students, always wanting them to see how economic principles matter to understanding and addressing the policy problems they care about. Students appreciated her flexibility, accessibility, and sense of humor, as well as the welcoming and lively environment she created in the classroom.

Read more about Lisa Gennetian and the Tifft Teaching Award. | Watch her receive the award


More Graduation Stories

We have profiled a wide variety of Duke Sanford School of Public Policy graduates. 

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