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The stories of Sanford students are the stories of our future leaders. Public policy has never been more relevant to the future of our democracy, our planet, and our own health. The journey to graduation for this class is a journey through adversity to a hopeful future as new members of the Sanford family of changemakers. Here are some of the stories of the Class of 2023. 

Updated Stories!

We will be updating this post with new stories throughout graduation week. Need the details of graduation itself? Check out our 2023 Graduation page.


Alex Hoffman is one of two winners of the 2023 Terry Sanford Leadership Award. A Public Policy major with minors in History and Spanish, Alex did not see himself as a leader, but he has shaken up the status quo in numerous ways on campus. For example, he is a founding member of Duke Sexual Harassment and Assault Prevention and Education (SHAPE), a student advocacy organization working to eradicate sexual violence on campus. He is also involved in an effort called the Transformative Systems Project to work with faculty and staff to modernize the economics curriculum at Sanford. After graduation, he will be researching social services provisioning in Berlin, as a 2023-2024 Fulbright grant recipient. Afterwards he will get an advanced degree at Oxford. 

Quinn Smith - Terry Sanford Leadership Award Winner

Quinn Smith is one of two winners of the top award for an undergraduate: the Terry Sanford Leadership Award. Quinn is an advocate for Native people on Duke’s campus and beyond. He is president of Duke’s Native American/Indigenous Student Alliance (NAISA) and has advocated for more support for Native students on Duke’s campus. He has completed numerous creative projects, like working with Duke Gardens to create audio documentaries of indigenous communities throughout the Carolinas describing their relationship with the land.  A Udall Scholar, he will be a Hart Leadership Fellow after graduation, working with Indigenous communities to advocate for indigenous land ownership.


Jibikeoluwa Faborode, MIDP'23

Jibikeoluwa studied electrical engineering as an undergraduate in Nigeria, and hoped to solve Nigeria’s energy issues. She decided to pivot, and pursue a graduate degree in International Development Policy. She now has a new focus: impact investing, and a network that she hopes will help her make real change.

Read Jibikeoluwa's story

Zhijie Zhou - iMEP

For the international Master of Environmental Policy, students study in China and the US. “You can witness the sunrise and sunset over snowy mountains and the East China Sea, ... peek into the future of national parks from panda excrement, meet migratory birds at the mouth of the Yangtze River, or study changes in seabird populations with the founders of conservation biology on a remote island in a national park off the coast of Florida," says Zhijie Zhou.

Read Zhijie's story

Gaby Battle - Undergraduate

Gaby Battle comes from a family rooted in justice and advocacy for marginalized communities. Raised by her mother and grandmother, and close to her great-grandmothers, she says their intergenerational teachings, "not only made me feel empowered to be Black but also motivated to continue to advocate for our people." Gaby is Sanford's 2023 undergraduate student commencement speaker. She will be attending Harvard Law School.

Read Gaby's story

Rusty Cotterman - MNSP

Rusty Cotterman has been deployed to conflict zones around the world including five tours in Afghanistan, Somalia, the Sahel, and most recently in Cote d’Ivoire as a member of the Army's Third Special Forces. It was when he returned stateside that he faced the fight of his life.  Rusty completed his Master of National Security Policy degree degree while battling stage 4 cancer.

Read Rusty's story

Mella Tesfazgi - MPP

Not only is Mella Tesfazgi completing graduate school as a first-generation student, but she has shouldered a load in her final semester that is almost incomprehensible. In January, her father died unexpectedly in a car accident. Mella moved home to Charlotte to run the family restaurant, while simultaneously taking her Master of Public Policy classes remotely.

Read Mella's Story

Mary Monti - Undergraduate

Mary won 2023 Best Honors Thesis for her project on high school government textbooks. She found the more conservative a state is (Texas, Florida) the more likely they are to tell students that good citizenship involves obeying laws, paying taxes, and contributing to the economy while a more liberal state like California emphasizes civic actions like voting, contacting your elected officials, and joining a political protest.

Read Mary's story

Sarah Petry - PhD

Sarah Petry is a PhD candidate in public policy — and so much more. When asked what her motto is in life, she responded, “It’s all gonna be okay, everything is gonna work out… [I] started telling myself this during my first year of grad school — sometimes it was true, sometimes not so much. But you know what? It all worked out!”

Read Sarah's Proust Questionnaire

Marayna Martinez - PhD

Marayna Martinez's dissertation focused on how high school demographics and school discipline affect the early adult political participation of children of color. She leaves Sanford with fond memories. "The thing that I really loved about Sanford was that people really cared," she said. After receiving her degree, Marayna will spend a year as a Presidential Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Department of Politics at Princeton. Then, starting in Fall 2024, she'll be an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Amanda Ostuni - MPP

A writer and editor before attending graduate school, Amanda Ostuni continued as a freelance writer while completing her Master of Public Policy studies. Amanda has focused on social policy during her time at the Sanford School. Amanda is a leader of the LGBTQ+ club Sanford PridePol and contributed to the Sanford Social Committee. A highlight of her time at Sanford was a connection she made with distinguished lecturer Federica Donato, founder of Art4Humanity. Amanda interviewed Federica for her Master’s project, and attended Federica’s lecture, which included a pop-up art exhibit.


Ari Panzer - MPP

Ari Panzer has been focused on gaining a deep understanding of the complex historical and contemporary challenges plaguing our systems. He hopes to use his graduate degree (MPP with a focus on health policy) to improve individuals’ experiences with healthcare. Ari received the 2023-2024 David A. Winston Health Policy Fellowship. Congratulations, Ari!

Read Ari's story

Matthew Vining - MPP

An environmental engineer and policy analyst student, Matthew Vining is passionate about environmental issues, especially ones linked to social and human health outcomes. Matthew participated in many of the environmental opportunities on campus while pursuing a Master of Public Policy degree, including Duke University's Energy Week and a meeting and talk with energy expert and author Alice Hill who was on campus to give the 2022 Rubenstein lecture. Matthew completed an internship at the Environmental Protection Agency in Research Triangle Park. Post graduation, Matthew will be working as a Policy Analyst with Atlas Public Policy, based in Washington, DC, conducting research and analysis on cost-effective strategies to deploy clean energy technologies and bringing new technology to public policy professionals.

Cameron Oglesby - MPP

Inspired by an ancestral plot of land, Cameron Oglesby grew up passionate about protecting the environment. She pursued a Master of Public Policy degree focusing on environmental policy in hopes of making the greatest impact. Cameron played a big role in two of Sanford's distinguished lectures, including "Environmental Justice: Past, Present and Future" which commemorated the 40th anniversary of the birth of the Environmental Justice Movement in Warren County, North Carolina, and "Energy and Environmental Justice Through Community Ownership", featuring some of the preeminent energy justice activists and organizers in North Carolina and the U.S. An award-winning journalist, Cameron served as creative lead and project coordinator for the Environmental Justice Oral History Project, a developing storytelling hub at Duke that works to elevate the place-based narratives of Southern environmental justice communities. 

Immediately after graduation, Cameron will continue writing and reporting on climate justice and Black joy for Yale Climate Connections and Earth in Color while working with environmental justice elders to develop a book on the layered history of environmental racism in the U.S. She will also continue working on the EJ Oral History Project – finalizing the project website, working with Duke libraries to archive the materials, and spreading the word about the stories and resources. She will then join McKinsey & Company where she hopes to develop environmental justice-centered engagement and research opportunities for the firm.  


Hamza Mohamoud - MPP

As a part of the innovative 4+1 program - Hamza Mohamoud completed his first of graduate school during his senior year at Duke which allowed him to get both a bachelor's and master degree in five years! "Prolonging my time at Duke was the best financial, personal, and educational decision I have made," he says. After graduation, Hamza will join Booz Allen Hamilton's Washington D.C. office.

Read Hamza's story

Speaker Noorin Nazari MIDP'07

Noorin Nazari MIDP '07 is the speaker at the Sanford graduate ceremony on May 12. When the Taliban came to power in 1996 in Afghanistan, Noorin was unable to continue her schooling – simply because she was a woman. Believing in the power of education, she pivoted to support an underground elementary school for girls. She says her life journey has shown her the power of policy.

Read Noorin's story