Dartmouth will honor 12 top students from the Class of 2020—six valedictorians and six salutatorians—who will be recognized during tomorrow’s degree-conferral ceremony, Celebrating the Moment: Dartmouth 2020.
Valedictorians for the graduating class are Emma Esterman ’20, Brandon Nye ’20, Scott Okuno ’20, Joshua Perlmutter ’20, Armin Tavakkoli ’20, and Sebastian Wurzrainer ’20. A selection committee representing the dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the dean of the College selected Esterman to deliver the valedictory address in Sunday’s virtual graduation ceremony.
“We applaud the accomplishments of these outstanding students,” says Elizabeth Smith, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. “The breadth and depth of their academic pursuits and co-curricular activities truly embody the spirit of the liberal arts, and they will be well represented at the Celebrating the Moment ceremony by valedictorian speaker Emma Esterman.”
To become a valedictorian, students must earn a 4.0 grade point average for all four years of their Dartmouth education.
The salutatorians, who each achieved at least a 3.99 grade point average, are Mary Clemens-Sewall ’20, Phoebe Cunningham ’20, Long Hoang Do ’20, Victoria Nedder ’20, Zijie Wang ’20, and Samuel Wilson ’20.
Emma Esterman ’20
Hometown: Plymouth, Mass.
Major: Biology, minor in Environmental Studies
What’s next: I will be working at the biotech company Adimab in Lebanon, N.H., as a Predoctoral Research Associate for two years, after which I hope to enter a PhD program related to computational biology or microbiology.
I am grateful to Dartmouth for the freedom to take courses across the arts and sciences, the ability to research with a professor, and for the opportunity to gain hands-on experience during leave terms. Over the past four years, I took classes in 14 different academic departments. Pushing myself outside of my comfort zone by taking courses in many subjects helped me become a better writer, communicator and creative problem solver. I realized that disciplines don’t exist in isolation and really enrich each other.
My biology research with Associate Professor Olga Zhaxybayeva in the biology department benefitted so much from me learning how to code in “Computer Science 1” as well as learning how to write a picture book in an English class. Due to Dartmouth’s unique D-plan schedule and Professor Zhaxybayeva’s outstanding mentorship, I was able to continue my research at the National Center for Biotechnology Information and Memorial University of Newfoundland during my leave terms. When not working on my biology research, I was able to explore my interest in sustainability by engaging with stakeholders in the energy industry in Texas and Louisiana with members of the Sustainability Office, play my violin in the Dartmouth Chamber Orchestra, and learn how to make pottery in the Ceramics Studio.
Four years ago, I never imagined that I would leave college having written a 90-page thesis about turning protein sequences into evolutionary trees, or having cloned DNA into bacteria in a lab in Canada, or having illustrated a picture book full of viruses, but that is the amazing power of a Dartmouth education. I feel so grateful to be emerging from Dartmouth as a more well-rounded scholar, armed with the skills to contribute to scientific discovery and the curiosity to keep learning more.
Brandon Nye ’20
Hometown: South Barrington, Ill.
What’s next: I will be working for Bridgewater Associates before applying to law school.
Throughout my time at Dartmouth, my classes were enriching and my professors inspiring. Dartmouth also afforded me valuable opportunities to expand my learning beyond the classroom. After learning the skills necessary for empirical research, I was able to apply these methods to study the public policy of Medicaid expansion both as an assistant to TDI Professor Ellen Meara, and on my own in my Econ 80 project.
My public policy classes in the Rockefeller Center, the government department, and the geography department complemented my economics education by providing context for the statistics and models I was developing. I then had the exciting experience of bringing it all together to help Vermont policymakers answer local governance questions in the Class of 1964 Policy Research Shop. Through opportunities for both empirical and socio-political engagement, Dartmouth has prepared me to take on important societal challenges.
Scott Okuno ’20
Hometown: Glenview, Ill.
Major: Mathematics and Economics double major
What’s Next: I will work as an analyst at MGG Investment Group in New York.
I came to Dartmouth knowing I wanted to study economics, and my course work in the subject helped me settle on starting a career in finance after graduation. My freshman year I decided to take a few math classes, as well, which led me to discover math as a second academic passion. The two subjects are great compliments, and both helped me become a better thinker and problem solver. Beyond the classroom, I’ve had great experiences at Dartmouth, such as with my involvement in Model UN. MUN was a big part of my high school experience, and having the opportunity to organize DartMUN, Dartmouth’s MUN conference for high schoolers, was extremely rewarding in that I was able to help sustain an activity that means a lot to me.
Joshua Perlmutter ’20
Hometown: Holliston, Mass.
Major: Mathematics and Physics double major, Astronomy minor
What’s Next: I will be starting a master’s degree program in mathematics at Brandeis University this fall.
I am grateful to the physics and astronomy department for the ample opportunities I have had to explore my astronomy interest, including writing a senior thesis with Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy Ryan Hickox and taking part in the astronomy FSP program in South Africa. Due to the short nature of terms, I was also able to take several proof-based math classes, and I became extremely passionate about the blend of logic and puzzle-solving in this field.
Outside of academics, I am thankful to have been a member of the Dartmouth Film Society and the mock trial team, both of which provided a creative outlet to balance my STEM-focused classes.
Armin Tavakkoli ’20
Hometown: New York, N.Y.
Major: Senior Fellow in Behavioral Neuroscience, Psychology
What’s Next: I’m heading to medical school at Geisel this fall.
Contrary to what you might think, I’m a failure.
I have gained a lot from Dartmouth. I have been able to take wild ideas and seemingly insurmountable questions and customize my curriculum in a way that allowed me to tackle them. But by far the biggest lesson I have learned here is to not be afraid of failing—and particularly of rejection.
Over the past four years, I have accumulated many, many, many more rejections than acceptances; I’ve failed many more times than I’ve succeeded. From campus organizations (some of which have rejected me twice), to scholarships and jobs, my rejection pile is ever growing. But the critical insight I have gained here is that if I’m not getting rejected, I’m not trying hard enough. So, I always remind myself: Rejection is not to be feared; giving up is.
Sebastian Wurzrainer ’20
Hometown: Coupeville, Wash.
Major: Film and Media Studies
What’s Next: I will begin the MA program in cinema and media studies at USC. I hope to eventually obtain my PhD, and ultimately become a professor and researcher.
When I first came to Dartmouth, my aspiration was to one day write and direct films professionally. However, during my first term, I took a film history course and found myself immediately engrossed in the theoretical and historical aspects of film studies. In the intervening years, I have become increasingly interested in the way that films simultaneously reflect and shape the ideology and psychology of the cultures that produce and receive them. I had the opportunity to explore these ideas in depth in a senior thesis that examined how the human brain makes sense of editing in classical Hollywood films.
My long-term goal is to become a professor and researcher. I intend to continue to explore how films communicate with us and how they shape our beliefs and perceptions. I also look forward to the opportunity to introduce future scholars to film theory and film history. I am immensely grateful to my friends, peers, and professors at Dartmouth who have always supported, guided, and mentored me.
Mary Clemens-Sewall ’20
What’s Next: I am moving to Baltimore next year and working in data science at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab.
“It’s lucky I like math because writing intimidates me.” I repeated that sentence so often that I started to excuse myself from taking challenging writing courses. I almost dropped a comparative literature course junior year. The first assignment was a seven-page creative essay, a monster to me. I poured my heart into it, and I dreaded my professor’s feedback. To my surprise, rather than a grade, he wrote me a letter. He described strengths of the piece, including a discovery I’d made while writing.
That discovery became the starting point for all my writing in the class. A teacher, I learned, is someone who helps me find joy in things that intimidate me.
Phoebe Cunningham ’20
Hometown: Rochester, N.Y.
Major: Chemistry and Art History double major
What’s Next: I’ll be taking a gap year while applying to medical school.
Intellectually, I am drawn to ambiguities and unanswered questions. Art history has served me well in this regard. This academic study was constructed as an inherently biased value system and substantial work has gone into countering its legacy. Considering how art history can be adjusted or rebuilt, to dismantle hierarchies and increase inclusivity, has helped me to conceptualize the changes needed in our health systems. Health care is my niche, and I am grateful for my experiences in this field, from working for a female-led nonprofit in Thailand to assisting on a HIV hearing study through Dickey’s Global Health Initiative.
On campus, I served for three years as a first-year Undergraduate Advisor and connected with students from varied backgrounds. Seeing their vulnerability pushed me to be a more understanding, supportive resource. Looking back, I am most thankful for the mentors and friends who encouraged me, and I am unbelievably proud of all the thoughtful students I have met at Dartmouth.
Long Hoang Do ’20
Hometown: Hanoi, Vietnam
Major: Mathematics and Film and Media Studies double major
Post-graduate plans: I am joining Altman Vilandrie & Co. in Boston as an analyst.
I like films a lot. I often visited the theater or streamed something through the common room’s TV every weekend. Yet, I was initially unsure if this leisure passion should become an academic one. While I decided to study math early on, I only became a film major after trying out enough courses on filmmaking and literary/film theory. Thanks to both subjects, I have become a more detail-oriented and organized thinker.
During my time here, I am grateful to have been taught by many amazing professors. I feel fortunate, too, to be surrounded by rather smart peers. Be it gossiping with friends, asking my clients in the Student Center for Research, Writing, and Information Technology about their paper topics, or helping other film students with their brilliant projects, every interaction at Dartmouth has always been an opportunity to gain something new.
Victoria Nedder ’20
Hometown: Needham, Mass.
Major: French with a minor in Biology
What’s next: I will be a Teaching Science Fellow for Biology and Chemistry at Dartmouth for my gap year while applying to medical school.
My favorite part of Dartmouth has been how many different courses I was able to take while being pre-med. I have always wanted to be a doctor, and I knew going into Dartmouth that I wanted to continue to pursue that. I loved the science courses I took, especially “Biology 14” (physiology), and found it fascinating to learn about all the different organ systems.
What I did not expect, however, was how much I would be able to explore outside of the sciences. I loved the French department and decided to become a French major. I was also able to study abroad in Paris which was amazing. I learned how to think in a different way, and I am so glad I was able to have such a wide range of learning experiences. My professors have been incredible, and I think they are one of the best parts of Dartmouth because they make learning so enjoyable.
Jerry Zijie Wang ’20
Major: Double major in Computer Science and Mathematics
Post-graduate plans: I will join Citadel Securities in New York as a derivatives trader.
Entering Dartmouth, I had no idea what I was going to major in. When I took “Computer Science 1” during my freshman fall, I was absolutely captivated by the language of machines. I loved how the labs were structured such that students could build something new each week. In more advanced computer science courses, I had the opportunity to develop my original ideas and built two projects that I am very proud of. One is an intelligent thesaurus tool that considers literary and connotative context, and the other is an iOS Mahjong application that allows players to create private rooms and play Mahjong with their friends. Although I majored in computer science and mathematics, Dartmouth also presented me with invaluable opportunities to take courses that were orthogonal to my direct fields of interest. In these courses, I was exposed to adjacent perspectives and learned how to unlearn many of the conventional modes of understanding and engaging in the world.
My experience at Dartmouth has taught me how to think critically and break down complex problems—whether they may be mathematical, philosophical or societal—and develop deep insights and understanding with a first-principles approach. My favorite class has been “Video Games and the Meaning of Life.” I never put too much thought into the games I play, but through the class, I now consider how players’ actions in games are reflective of real-world phenomena.
Sam Wilson ’20
Hometown: Madison, Conn.
Major: Economics, with a minor in Mathematics
Post-graduate plans: I will be Joining Belvedere Trading in Chicago.
Before coming to Dartmouth, I was not entirely sure what I wanted to study. However, during my first few terms on campus, I took some classes in the economics and mathematics departments, and I quickly realized that this was the path I wanted to pursue. I really enjoyed the analytical, problem-oriented style of these courses. In these classes, the ability to interact with and learn from the faculty face-to-face, most of whom are leaders in their fields, truly made my learning experience at Dartmouth special.
Also, I was lucky enough to complete an exchange term in Italy during my junior year. Through my experiences these past four years, Dartmouth has allowed me to find and pursue my passions, while also helping me develop as a person and a life-long learner.
William Platt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.