Student Spotlight

‘A whole new way of learning’ – Isabella Christopher, graduate speaker, Northern Commencement

May 19, 2016

Isabella Christopher, who was born in Pakistan, faced, in her words, an outdated and prejudicial system of education before discovering Brandman University while working at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey. Brandman introduced her to the value of cooperative learning, critical-thinking and to embrace diversity. She graduated with a master’s in educational leadership on May 14, 2016, at the Northern Commencement ceremony in Sacramento California.


Chancellor Gary Brahm: Now I would like to present to you the student speaker representing the university’s graduate students, Isabella Christopher, who will receive her Master of Arts in educational leadership from our Monterey campus. Isabella.

Isabella Christopher: Thank you Chancellor Brahm. Ladies and gentlemen and Brandman University family, I’m honored to be here to deliver the commencement speech on behalf of my fellow graduate students.

I come from Pakistan, a third world country where educational opportunities for women are something like manna from heaven. I was among the fortunate few who received this gift. The women of my neighborhood and my female relatives all reprimanded my mother for sending her 3 daughters to college. Faced with multiple challenges, such as the outdated and prejudicial system of education in Pakistan, I began to believe that I didn’t have the right stuff to be a student. But somehow the math did not add up and so I resisted this conclusion. I liked learning and attending school and wanted to pursue my dream.

When I was 16, my father passed away leaving a wife and six children. Despite the confusion and difficulties that followed, I eventually earned a bachelor’s degree at age 20 and started working as full-time elementary school teacher.

It’s traditional in Pakistan for the older children to take over financial responsibility for the family when the head of the family dies.  So I tutored students of various ages to support my family. After receiving my teacher’s certification, I attended evening graduate classes in English Literature, and four years later, I completed my master’s.

Like many of you, I am fortunate both to be a U.S. citizen and to have my present job  at the Defense Language Institute, which led me to Brandman University at Monterey Bay. There I discovered a whole new world of learning in an entirely different setting, where I don’t have problems focusing on the school work. I could earn an advanced degree in education. Moreover, I could communicate with my teachers, because I was not afraid to ask questions anymore.

At Brandman, I learned that working collaboratively is an effective way of learning. I was encouraged to share my ideas and problem-solving strategies with ,y classmates and teachers who respected me for my experience and my views.  And, I have learned to respond likewise. I began to celebrate diversity rather than to feel self-conscious.   I discovered that reaching out for help is not a weakness. Whenever I walked in the administrative office, I knew I would be helped, supported and advised in a truly supportive environment. I learned that accountability and ethics exist.

Studying at Brandman was my gateway to critical thinking and finding answers through hands-on activities as well as mutual discussions to evaluate the information through the lens of research, scholarly reviews and substantial arguments. Like you, I have become a lifelong, self-directed adult learner, whose ideas are listened to.

Now I can confidently stand up for my beliefs and apply to my professional life all that I have earned at Brandman University to make a difference in the lives of others. I have overcome my inner fears, developed my professional skills and set high standards to achieve my goals. It has been an amazing journey of educational growth and personal empowerment.

In the end, I offer my thanks — to Brandman University – to our teachers, advisors, tech teams and management — and most importantly to our families for giving us the support necessary to make this dream come true. Thank you all..

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