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Two Degrees. Two Cultures. Infinite Possibilities.

January 11, 2024
Ning Yu received a Distinguished Student Service Award.

Calling her own 17-month experience an “epic adventure,” Ning Yu urged her classmates to embrace adversity and turn obstacles into opportunities during her Master of Science in Social and Economic Policy convocation remarks at Northwestern University’s Mary B. Galvin Recital Hall.

“No matter the path we choose, let us carry forward the spirit of innovation, resilience, and the sense of community that defines our program,” said Yu, one of three student speakers. “We are trailblazers. And the challenges we face are not roadblocks -- they are stepping stones to a future that we have the power to shape.”

Yu and the other 47 members of the Class of 2023, who received their diplomas in December, are the world’s second cohort of students to earn a dual master’s degree in applied economics and social and economic policy.

Jointly designed by Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy and the Department of Economics at The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), the interdisciplinary program joins two cultures, two campuses, and two education systems.

“To drive and set policy as some of you will do is a tremendous honor. It is also a serious responsibility that requires care and thoughtfulness,” Dean Bryan McKinley Jones Brayboy told the purple-gowned graduates. “I know you’re prepared to do so.</>The program begins in Sha Tin, Hong Kong, where students spend ten months taking quantitative courses taught by award-winning faculty from both The Chinese University of Hong Kong and Northwestern.

The final seven months are spent on Northwestern’s Evanston campus, where students have additional coursework in social policy at the nation’s third-ranked school of education. They also participate in extracurriculars, including alumni panels, career workshops, job talks, and outings to professional sporting events and museums.

Dean Bryan Brayboy (left) Duozhe Li and Michelle Yin

Program director Michelle Yin emphasized that the experience went beyond academic rigor. “Your time here was a journey of personal growth, of finding and forging your unique path and preparing to make an incredible mark on this world,” she said. ““You're not just graduates. You're innovators, leaders, and visionaries of tomorrow. The world you're entering is replete with challenges and opportunities. Embrace them with the same passion, intelligence, and integrity that you had shown here.”

Other convocation speakers included co-program director Duozhe Li, associate professor at The Chinese University of Hong Kong; and student representatives Kristina Kokoneci and Kai Zhang.

Kokoneci, 21, of Italy, said she initially felt a sense of excitement mingled with fear when she found herself in Hong Kong. It was the first time she’d left home. “There was a pervasive sense of not fully belonging to this culture, and the constant anxiety of shaping our future,” Kokoneci said.

“Yet, I wasn't alone in this journey. Class became a transformative space where we shared our thoughts and through new friendships, we created a community to navigate the uncertainties together.”

mssep-group_488.jpgFor Yu, the decision to pursue a dual master’s degree wasn’t rooted in “a meticulous analysis of pros and cons, but rather in the crave for the adventure of starting from scratch and contributing to something bold and groundbreaking,” she said.

She encouraged her classmates to use their newfound skills to shape the future and create solutions. “At times, it feels like humanity is engaged in the struggle against itself,” she said. “We may feel weak, furious, and sad. But in the face of adversity, we have a choice. We can see a dead-end road. Or we can see the multitudes of new paths waiting to be explored.”

Student awardees:

  • Academic Excellence Award: Jiayang Zhang and Kaiyang Deng
  • Distinguished Student Service Award: Kai Zhang, Kristina Kokoneci, and Ning Yu
  • Excellence in Professional Development: Ruilong Li

Faculty award winners:

  • Excellence in Teaching: Ofer Malamud
  • Innovation in Teaching: Scott Ogawa
  • Applied Learning Award: Hoa Vu