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Graduation season has arrived, and with it the opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate our YWI 2020 Graduates. Like many, Cabinet members have worked hard to achieve academic excellence in schools across the state, but COVID19 has upended plans for traditional graduation ceremonies.

Although we face a time of uncertainty, we did not want this academic milestone to pass without honoring our extraordinary Cabinet members. We are proud of and inspired by the 2020 graduates who have persevered, adapted, and innovated during this unprecedented time – YOU DID IT! As your community and your village, we are here, we see you and we are proud to honor you.

Congratulations to the following Young Women’s Initiative Cabinet member graduates – check out their bios, sources of inspiration and plans post-graduation.

Raie GessesseRaie Gessesse

Hamline University

B.S. Public Health & Political Science

Raie is a first-generation Ethiopian American, graduating magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, and with departmental honors in Public Health and Political Science. Her academic interests stem from a commitment to issues of gender and racial equity, health, and justice. She currently serves on the Cultural and Ethnic Leadership Council (CECLC) and the National Young Women’s Advisory Council. In recognition of her community advocacy, she was named a 2019 Minnesota Truman Scholar.

Future plans:

Following graduation, I will be interning with the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, the nation’s foremost nonprofit nonpartisan public policy, research, and educational institute that seeks to advance the global black community. Then I will serve as a fellow for the Center for Justice and Law at Hamline University. I intend to apply to graduate and doctoral level degrees in public policy this fall.

What inspires you during COVID-19?

During times like these, I am encouraged by the acts of courage and bravery of our essential workers, as well as the small acts of kindness I have witnessed. Most importantly, I am encouraged by the youth and change-makers I have the honor of working with that give me hope for the future.

Favorite quote:

When I dare to be powerful — to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether or not I am afraid” – Audre Lorde.


Zaynab Abdi 

Zaynab Abdi

St. Catherine’s University

B.S. Political Science, International Relations & Philosophy

Zaynab is an honors senior graduating with three majors (Political Science, International Studies, and Philosophy) and Latin honors. She served as the Student Senate President in the College for Women at St. Catherine’s. Zaynab is also involved globally, working as an Immigrant and Refugee Youth Ambassador with the Green Card Voices. In fact, she co-authored a book on the topic – an anthology that captures the stories of other young immigrants in Minnesota. Recently Zaynab received the University’s most prestigious awards, the Mary E. McCahill Award and the Helen B. Lemmer Award for academic excellence and leadership.

Future Plans:

My dream is to be a human rights lawyer and to work globally with countries to better their education and government systems. International Development and Law school will be the right place for me to achieve these goals.

What inspires you during COVID-19?

My faith in God and that things are happening for a reason keeps me being encouraged and staying positive.

Favorite quote:

“All that you touch, you change. All that you change, changes you.” – Octavia Butler


Ponny White

Ponny White

Minnesota State University Moorhead

B.S.  Political Science: Women & Gender Studies & B.A. Multimedia Journalism

Ponny is a dedicated reproductive rights activist working with organizations like “Advocates for Youth” and “Planned Parenthood” lobbying for legislation that supports young people’s access to affordable reproductive healthcare. As president of her college’s Black Student Union and Campus Feminist organization, Ponny orchestrated free, inclusive, and comprehensive sexual education courses. As an immigrant-American, first generation college student, Ponny understands the systemic disadvantages marginalized groups constantly experience, which is why she strives to center black, queer, bodies of color in her public service work.

Future Plans:

I’m currently working remotely as a Women’s Economic Policy Fellow for the Century Institute in New York City, and hope to continue working in political advocacy. COVID has made a lot of things uncertain and complicated. It is going to be an interesting summer trying to work on women’s economic policies for a state that I have never lived in, but we are all making quick adjustments, and being kind to one another, so I am optimistic.

What inspires you during COVID-19?

My source of encouragement comes from the idea that we are all united by a common conflict. As a black woman, from an immigrant working class upbringing, navigating social, economic, and racial conflicts is an exhausting constant for me, but what always made it worse was trying to explain those conflicts to others who grew up with privilege and could not conceive what I was going through. We all to a certain extent have a universal understanding that COVID is distorting lives, and I find encouragement in the realization that we are all in this together. We are all, some more than others, doing the best we can to survive and help one another survive.

Favorite Quote:

“If you’re going through it, just know it’s called ‘going through it’. You’re not gonna get stuck there, you’re not gonna die, you’re gonna survive” –Tina Knowles.

 


Mariana Cervantes

Mariana Cervantes

Hamline University

B.S. Criminal Justice & Legal Studies & Spanish Certificate

Mariana works at a local immigration law firm as a paralegal where she has learned valuable career and life skills. Through Mariana’s work with immigrants she has found a passion in advocating for immigrant rights.

Future Plans:

Eventually,I would like to attend law school and become an immigration or criminal attorney.

What inspires you during COVID-19?

My family and friends have been so supportive during these troubling times. Also, my dog Tito who has been an amazing pup to spend quarantine with!

Favorite Quote:

“Women belong in all places where decisions are being made.” –Ruth Bader Ginsburg


Lulu

Lulu Regules

St. Olaf College

B.S. Political Science: Women’s and Gender Studies & American Studies

Lulu double majored in Political Science and American Studies, with a concentration in Women’s and Gender Studies. At St. Olaf, she served on the Executive Board of College Democrats. Most recently, Lulu interned in the Washington DC office of Senator Tina Smith. Additionally, she has been a legal intern at the St. Thomas School of Law, and a Policy Analyst at the MN Department of Human Services in the Child Safety and Permanency Unit. Her research at the Department of Human Services guided the development of a Human Trafficking Response Guide that will be used in the state’s Child Protection and Child Welfare system. Previously, she was an executive office intern at Women Winning, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping pro-choice women run for public office.

Future Plans:

I am interested in pursuing a career as an immigration attorney, and eventually transitioning into using my law degree and my political science degree to influence immigration policy through legislative work. I am planning on attending the University of St. Thomas School of Law this fall.

What inspires you during COVID-19?

Although social media often gets a bad reputation, during this time I am reminded of how amazing it is to be able to stay connected with my community online. Whenever I go online, I am encouraged by how people have come together virtually to try and help the marginalized communities that are disproportionately impacted by COVID.

Favorite Quote:

“I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change; I am changing the things I cannot accept” –Angela Davis


In’am Al-Hammouri

In’am Al-Hammouri

Augsburg University

B.S. Psychology

In’am majored in psychology and was a member of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. She has volunteered with Palestinian and Syrian refugees in the Middle East and in 2016, she volunteered at Unity Hospital to provide aid to women who had been abused. Most recently, she interned with the Barnes & Thornburg law firm in Minneapolis. In’am grew up watching the struggles of her Middle Eastern community: particularly women’s struggle to gain equality. She has resolved to consistently advocate for Middle Eastern women by championing women’s rights, gender equality and supporting women as leaders and public policy makers.

Future plans:

I plan to attend law school, where I will focus on litigation.

What inspires you during Covid-19?

Playing the piano, exploring the city, and making new friends.


Flora

Flora Fouladi

Macalester College

B.S. Political Science & Data Science

Flora earned a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Data Science. Flora feels passionate about equity work, political analysis, and working within the LGBTQ+ community. At Macalester, she was a leader of the Queer Women’s Identity Collective (QWIC). As a Macalester Chuck Green Civic Engagement Fellow, she wrote a pilot curriculum for RECLAIM’s peer education program designed to teach LGBTQ+ youth about healthy relationship skills. Flora has held internships with Senator Tina Smith’s Saint Paul office, with the policy team of a San Francisco tech company, and with the policy team of the Office of Governor Walz and Lieutenant Governor Flanagan.

Future Plans:

I am currently seeking career opportunities in political analysis, research, and community engagement. I am interested in combining my excitement for quantitative research with my passion for equity and strengthening communities. Like many other students, my post graduate plans were thrown into uncertainty in context of this crisis, but am happy that I will be able to continue my internship with the MN DFL House Campaign remotely for the indefinite future.

What inspires you during COVID-19?

I have returned to California to spend this time with my family, and I find strength in my loved ones who have found their ways to keep joyful during difficult times. I also find strength from other members of the Young Women’s Cabinet who I am always excited to connect with and draw inspiration from.

Favorite quote:

“When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” –Audre Lorde

 

 

What’s next for you? We want to hear from our readers, so we’re asking: Post graduation, what are your plans? Let us know on Facebook!

To stay engaged follow the #ywimn on all social media platforms.

Authored by La’Shante Grigsby, YWI Leadership Program Manager

 

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