March 20, 2023
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Eleven student speakers chosen to address peers at Commencement ceremonies

Sofia Haikin was the student speaker for the School of Management Commencement in 2019. Sofia Haikin was the student speaker for the School of Management Commencement in 2019.
Sofia Haikin was the student speaker for the School of Management Commencement in 2019. Image Credit: Jonathan Cohen.

Binghamton University will begin its Commencement ceremonies when the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences holds its second Commencement at 10 am. Friday, May 13, in the Anderson Center’s Osterhout Concert Theater. The following week, ceremonies will begin with a doctoral hooding ceremony at 3 p.m. Wednesday, May 18, also in the Anderson Center’s Osterhout Concert Theater. A Master’s Ceremony will be held at 4:30 p.m. Friday, May 20, in the Events Center on campus and each school will hold ceremonies throughout the weekend.

Student speakers will represent their peers at the ceremonies. Here, read a bit about the 11 students who will take the podium during the 2022 ceremonies.

They appear in the order of the ceremonies where they will speak.

Julia Napoli

Doctor of Pharmacy
School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences
10 a.m. Friday, May 13, Osterhout Concert Theater

Julia Napoli will pursue a prestigious two-year post-doctoral fellowship in global medical information with Merck & Co. in affiliation with Rutgers University in Upper Gwynedd, Pa. following graduation — after enduring a grueling application process.

The Staten Island native came to Binghamton University on the heels of her older brother. She knew the University was a good [Science, Technology, Engineering, Math] (STEM) school, and she knew she liked the clinical aspect of pharmacy. “But what really sold me was the pharmacy school at Binghamton popping up before my eyes.”

Napoli wanted to have an impact on this brand-new pharmacy program and so she quickly got involved in various leadership positions across different organizations. She credits her time on the soccer field as where her leadership truly began. “I’ve played soccer for my whole life until I got to college. I was captain of my team from the time I was 8 years old. It’s my leadership origin story, and after that I kept seizing different opportunities to be a leader.”

She expects to stay in the Northeast following her fellowship as she pursues her career in the field of industrial pharmacy.

Tara Mandel

Bachelor of Science in Nursing, Baccalaureate Accelerated Track
Decker College of Nursing and Health Sciences
1 p.m. Friday, May 20, Events Center

Tara Mandel graduated from Binghamton University with a bachelor’s degree in integrative neuroscience and a minor in health and wellness in 2021.

“Since my minor was completed through Decker College of Nursing and Health Sciences, I met so many professors who truly displayed a passion for educating their students,” she said. “The professors that I was so lucky to have taught with such enthusiasm, not only wanting to see the success of their students in the classroom but also in their overall health. I adored these professors, appreciating their holistic approach to teaching, thinking to myself that if this is what Decker professors are like, then I definitely wanted to receive my nursing degree from Binghamton.”

With an older brother who requires a great deal of care, Mandel knew she wanted to be in healthcare. “I was exposed to a lot of medical professionals at a young age and I knew I wanted to be in healthcare because of seeing the difference between those who listened to my mom as she advocated for my brother and others who shunted her aside.

“I want to make people feel heard and actually cared for, providing them with the proper treatment they need,” she said.

“My older brother is my heart. One day I’ll take on the role of his guardian and care for him. He’s who made me who I am today and I am forever grateful.”

Eduardo Gomez

Master of Science in Systems Science and Industrial Engineering
Master’s Ceremony
4:30 p.m. Friday, May 20, Events Center

Eduardo Gomez earned his bachelor’s degree in industrial and systems engineering from Binghamton University one year ago, and stayed with the Thomas J. Watson College of Engineering and Applied Science to earn his master’s degree in systems science this year.

When he was initially looking at what college to attend, he saw Binghamton as the best value with highly ranked programs and professors. “Binghamton is a great school and incredibly well-known, especially Watson,” he said. “Plus, the campus was really nice, had plenty of opportunities, and was a perfect location from my home in the Catskills. It was close enough where I could go home easily, but not too close that my parents could surprise me with visits!”

He admits, though, that he initially didn’t like Binghamton. “I was incredibly homesick, struggled with my classes, and wanted to drop out and change schools to something closer to home,” Gomez said. “My first semester (fall 2017) was the worst for me.

“However in the spring semester of my first year, I was introduced to the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) and things began to turn around,” he said. SHPE aims to empower Hispanics and other minorities in STEM and was “incredibly welcoming,” Gomez said. Soon, he felt like he belonged and remained active in SHPE, serving as secretary, corporate relations chair and president for the organization throughout his undergraduate years.

He also co-founded a chapter of Out-in-STEM (oSTEM), which aims to empower the LGBTQ+ community in STEM.

“By working with all these student organizations, I have grown professionally, made some of my best friends, received internships and a full-time job, and helped empower others,” he said. “My experience has been incredible. Binghamton has offered me so much to succeed and grow. I’m so happy that I decided to stay here my first year; I don’t know where I would be without Binghamton.”

The student organizations helped Gomez feel comfortable and created an environment where he could thrive, but so did faculty. “The entire Systems Science and Industrial Engineering (SSIE) Department is fantastic. Each professor I’ve had pushed us to think analytically and find creative solutions, especially professors Ken McLeod and Hiroki Sayama, who not only taught us strong technical skills but encouraged us to challenge the status quo and stride for new innovative solutions. These professors empower their students to go into the world and make lasting, positive impacts.”

“After graduation, I will be taking a month-long road trip around the United States and enjoying some ‘freedom,’” Gomez said. In August, he will start full-time employment with IBM in New York City as a brand technical sales specialist, adding that he also hopes to stay active in SHPE and oSTEM.

Christopher Bergamini

Bachelor of Arts in Biological Sciences; Minor in Spanish
Harpur College of Arts and Sciences 1
8:30 a.m. Saturday, May 21, Events Center

When Christopher Bergamini was in high school, he had a lot of potential, but admittedly didn’t apply himself. “Most of my peers and figures of authority were generally against me going to college,” he said. “So I didn’t go my first semester and that made me realize I needed some extra guidance and didn’t know what I was doing.”

Fast forward to the spring semester of what would have been his first year in college, and he started classes at Binghamton. “I had quickly realized that working in a warehouse at 5:30 in the morning wasn’t going to get me anywhere!” he said. “There were obviously things other than my grades that helped me get in, and thankfully, I’m here.”

I was immature, he said, and still needed a helping hand as he learned what mattered to him as a person.

Though he initially felt estranged as a new student in the middle of the academic year, people were welcoming right of the bat, he said. “Luckily, I had people very interested in being friends with me and understanding. They’re still there for me now and I’m thankful for that and really happy I stayed.”

He has tentative plans to take the MCAT and go to medical school, but not right away. “I’m in no rush for my long-term goal,” he said. “I’m going to be home to spend time with my friends and family for a while first.”

Klaire Martinez

Bachelor of Arts in Theatre; Bachelor of Arts in English
Harpur College of Arts and Sciences 2
12:30 p.m. Saturday, May 21, Events Center

“This was one of the first schools I came to where I felt … inspired when I visited,” said Klaire Martinez. “I told my mom during the tour, I really want to go here. I remember her smiling and saying ‘okay’ and that was that.”

But by the time sophomore year rolled around, as a STEM major she realized she wasn’t happy. “I wasn’t inspired or connected with what I was doing anymore,” she said. “But when I was performing in the main stage shows, I can’t explain it; I just felt alive. I was always involved in theater since I was a kid, so I realized I needed to stick with what keeps coming back ‘like gum on my shoe.’”

Martinez had also taken a creative writing course on a whim her first year, and her professor suggested she look into publishing her short stories. From there she went on to claim another major. “I might as well get a nice two-for-one degree deal.”

So the switch was made and inspiration returned. “It’s like I finally turned on the lights in my head,” she said. “My writing comes from different parts of me than acting does. With writing, I can impact people long term, my words are a bit more permanent, but with acting, I see it in their faces and experience it with them.”

She will be working in marketing and recruiting in New York City following graduation, “but as far as the arts go, no matter what, I can’t escape it; it will find me and I’ll seek it out one way or another there’s a little bit of security in that, whether as an actor or someone who is viewing it. I’m going to audition and will keep auditioning. And perhaps write about it!”

Arkiatou Keita

Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy, Politics and Law; Minor in Human Rights
Harpur College of Arts and Sciences 3
4:30 p.m. Saturday, May 21, Events Center

Arkiatou Keita, a native of Mali who often goes by “Kia,” is the daughter of a military general and diplomat representing Mali, so had what many might consider an unconventional educational experience before coming to Binghamton. At times she was home schooled, at other times she was schooled in different countries, among them the United States. She lived in Scarsdale, N.Y., for a time, but had to go back to Mali to finish high school there at the American International School of Bamako, due to her father’s employment.

“Having lived in Scarsdale, I knew I wanted to come back to New York state for university, so I did research on the SUNYs, and Binghamton was first in rank,” she said. “After further research, I saw that it was a big research university and I thought the mascot was unique, so once I received my acceptance it was an intuitive decision.

“My experience at Binghamton University has been very formative to my development as an individual, and I am grateful for that,” she said. “Here, I was given opportunities to step out of my comfort zone, and experience many new things.”

She’s been active on campus in various roles, including as an executive board member for the Thurgood Marshall Pre-Law Society (TMPS), being a student worker in the MarketPlace and serving as a residential assistant. “I’ve also met some amazing people that I know will stay in my life for the long run,” she added.

A number of courses expanded her awareness of society and the systems we live under, she said, mentioning in particular Foundations of Social Theory; Human Rights and World Politics; Race, Philosophy and the Law; and Globalization and Literacy Culture.

“This knowledge has been extremely valuable as it has helped me understand my role in society and has influenced my decision as to what I want my personal work to be, which is human-rights focused,” she said. “Many faculty at Binghamton have influenced me and I feel grateful for all the professors I’ve had because they’ve all challenged me to grow intellectually and improve on my writing, research and analytical skills. Pre-law advisor Alex Jablonski has been a great mentor for me personally and Leah Joggerst [director of constituent relations and advancement for Harpur College] is someone I adore because of her generosity. She does so much for TMPS and always does so with great enthusiasm.”

Moving forward, Keita is determined to become a human rights lawyer.

“I plan to attend law school in the fall of 2023 and will be applying to schools this fall for an early decision,” she said. “Once in law school I would like to concentrate on human rights/international law as well as constitutional law.”

Daniel Iacobacci

Bachelor of Science in Computer Engineering; Minor in Pre-Engineering; Minor in Sustainable Engineering
Thomas J. Watson College of Engineering and Applied Science
8:30 a.m. Sunday, May 22, Events Center

Binghamton University’s first-year engineering program, which allows students to explore many facets of engineering before they decide on a particular field, was what attracted Long Island native Daniel Iacobacci to Watson College. “It interested me because of the variety of projects and topics covered,” he said. “This, in combination with the many options to get involved in different Watson organizations outside the classroom had me convinced, and I am very happy with my decision!”

He is now active on two main projects, the first being the Binghamton University Rover Team that he joined his first year and has led over the past two years. The second is the Watson Combat Robotics League that Iacobacci co-founded his sophomore year and now helps over 125 students design, build and compete with small fighting robots. “These projects are definitely stressful at times, but are incredibly fun and rewarding and were well worth it.”

After graduation, he will stay at Binghamton University for an additional year to earn his Master of Science in Electrical and Computer Engineering.

After that? “I definitely want to work for a tech company in robotics, cybersecurity or really anything that can improve how we interact with the world around us,” he said.

Emre Isiktekiner

Bachelor of Science in Computer Science
Thomas J. Watson School of Engineering and Applied Science
8:30 a.m. Sunday, May 22, Events Center

Emre Isiktekiner will be earning dual bachelor’s degrees this month: one in computer science from Binghamton University and the other from Istanbul Technical University in his native country of Turkey. He made it into the demanding program because of his high GPA, and the decision to participate made sense.

“It was actually very easy to make the decision,” he said. “It is everyone’s dream to get an education in such an elite school in America, like Binghamton University. That’s why I made this decision very willingly, thinking that I could get a good education and be more beneficial to my home country and to the world.”

The language barrier was difficult to overcome, but he adapted and life became easier. “Even though part of my life belongs to Turkey, I like Binghamton and the United States, too,” he said. “Studying at Binghamton has developed and matured me and made me a stronger person.”

Overall, Isiktekiner had good experiences while at Binghamton. “I met people from different cultures, learned a new language, improved myself, traveled to America,” he said. “The people here were mostly very kind to me and generally supported me. I have always met people who believe that I can succeed and make me feel valued. That’s why I’m very happy.”

There are a number of people who have supported him in different ways, he said. “First of all, I am grateful to my mother, my father and all my family for their support so far. I couldn’t have done this without them. Also, Merwyn Jones [lecturer in computer science] is always by our side and supporting us and I learned a lot from him. Oktay Sekercisoy and Allison Nyamuame [from the Dual-Diploma Program] have supported me over the years. Thomas Bartenstein [lecturer in computer science] took me with him as his assistant and helped me earn money here for the first time. I’m thankful to all these people. And Sujoy Sikdar [lecturer in computer science] really helped me in my last semester. He truly gives values to his students. And even if they weren’t computer science classes, Kathryn Niles [lecturer in art and design] in a drawing class and Corinne Farrell [lecturer in health and wellness] in a yoga class are very important to me.”

Farrell actually taught Isiktekiner the value of a head massage. After receiving one, he “walked around calmly and peacefully all day as if I was free from all my stress.”

Isiktekiner hasn’t yet decided if he will return to Turkey following graduation or remain in the U.S. “I will let myself go with the flow of life,” he said. “I wish the best for myself and for everyone!”

Julia Saltzman

Master of Public Administration, Certificate in Genocide and Mass Atrocity Prevention
College of Community and Public Affairs
Noon Sunday, May 22, Events Center

Julia Saltzman, a New Jersey native, earned her bachelor’s degree in philosophy, politics and law with a minor in human rights from Binghamton University before continuing on for her master’s degree.

Though she doesn’t yet have a job lined up for after Commencement, she’s focused on what she wants to accomplish in her career. “Ideally, I’ll work in memorialization focusing on peace building and commemorating mass atrocities,” she said. “I did the Source Project on the human rights track and Alexandra Moore [professor of English and director of the Human Rights Institute] put me on the path to where I am now.”

Memorialization uses memory as a way to shape a narrative surrounding a mass atrocity or genocide and is an important tool in bringing people together, Saltzman said. “It helps bridge social tensions. Things like holocaust museums provide a greater appreciation for the loss that was experienced during the period and offer a way of learning about something that still shapes peoples’ lives.”

“I also I have a background in philosophy, so I’m really interested in social philosophy and understanding how people think, understanding human rights through a lens of natural law,” she added.

When she first came to Binghamton, when looking at colleges, something about it clicked, Saltzman said. “I still applied to other schools, and then realized I got the most bang for my buck here and I haven’t regretted it.”

Ian Ouma

Bachelor of Science in Human Development; Minor in Africana Studies
College of Community and Public Affairs
Noon Sunday, May 22, Events Center

“I never really had intentions to come to Binghamton,” said Ian Ouma, a native of Kenya who lived in many parts of the African continent before moving to Queens in 2014. “It was more of a random choice but was pushed by one of my high school teachers. She attended here and speaks of it very eloquently about it.”

He came from a high school that was “very much underfunded,” he said, so enrolled in human development due to its social justice focus.

“I’ve had so many experiences, not just due to one faculty member,” he said. “They all really know about public service. Their approach to public service is very different as opposed to other schools. They’re very much hands-on and that’s what I really like about it.”

His drive to work in public service at some level will take him to graduate school at Georgetown University in the fall. After that, he aspires to a career in the Foreign Service.

“I picture myself as an attaché in consular affairs or something like that, serving a community somewhere,” he said. And, given his already well-developed skills in languages — he speaks Swahili, Afrikaans, French and English — he could end up anywhere.

David Hatami

Bachelor of Science in Business Administration; Bachelor of Arts in Political Science; Concentration in Pre-Law
School of Management
3:30 p.m. Sunday, May 22, Events Center

David Hatami is actively interviewing and, ideally, would like to work in the legal industry, particularly in public interest law. “That’s where I really see myself, but also potentially in a number of private sector jobs such as management consulting and general financial roles, paralegal and editorial roles. For me, they’re all related to political science,” he said.

When he came to Binghamton, he saw it as a way to stay close to home but also experience something new in a new environment. “But what drew me to Binghamton most directly was the culture and community here,” he said. “Residential life with its niche communities. … It was a place I could see myself living and thriving in for the next few years.

Hatami, who will end his term as president of the Student Association upon graduating, has always seen himself as a politically active student. “I worked on a number of political campaigns and I’ve always seen myself as a community leader. I’ve also helped organize a demonstration on campus where I gave a speech regarding human rights-related justice in Palestine,” he added. “That was definitely one of the most impactful experiences I have had here at Binghamton University.

“I’ve always loved current events and have worked as an opinion columnist for Pipe Dream, and I think that speaks about myself as a person,” he added. “What has really developed my character is that my parents are both immigrants from Kabul, Afghanistan, and that I’m a first-generation student here in the United States. Having that unique perspective has been one of the biggest driving forces for me and my career.”

Posted in: CCPA, Decker, Harpur, Pharmacy, SOM, Watson