Congratulations to the Levinson Program Class of 2024!

Class of 2024

2024 Levinson Program Commencement Class Speaker Remarks
Nicole Mah- recipient of the Sherman Cochran Prize
May 24, 2024

"To my fellow CAPS graduates, esteemed faculty, family and friends,

Welcome to the Levinson Program in China and Asia Pacific Studies Graduation Ceremony. My name is Nicole Mah and it is an honour to be your CAPS commencement speaker today.

Nicole Mah

As we gather here to celebrate our achievements, I am deeply humbled by the journey that has led us to this moment. When I think about the Class of 2024, I think about the High School class of 2020. For some, this may be the first graduation ceremony you are experiencing since middle school. Freshman year was unlike any other, as we navigated the uncertainties and challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, despite these struggles, we made it through. The resilience and determination that brought us here today are testaments to our strength and adaptability.

We are here today because each of us in the program has a unique connection and interest in China. As students of CAPS, we’ve been privileged to engage with an interdisciplinary curriculum that is truly one of the most enriching and comprehensive programs at Cornell. CAPS has allowed us to achieve our individual interest while gaining a wide knowledge base in history, politics, markets, foreign relations, culture, and language in regard to the study of China. In a time of increasing bipartisan hawkishness and a negative shift in Sino-US relations, our objective and balanced study of China has been both challenging and crucial. We have not shied away from exploring the complexities of China’s rise, its cultural, socioeconomic, and governmental nuances, and its impact on global power dynamics. We’ve had the opportunity to bring our unique backgrounds and interests to share and discuss China’s outlook, and as a result, we have grown from each other’s perspectives. Because of CAPS, we have developed strong critical thinking skills, learned to challenge our beliefs, and engage in informed debate.

But being a CAPS major is more than our shared classes and academic pursuit, more than the studying, the reading, researching, writing, and more reading, researching and writing. We are here because and we have chosen to dedicate ourselves to studying a country that is easy to assume too much but difficult to truly know about.

From introductory gateway courses to the senior seminar, we have been consistently reminded of the complexity of China. Our professors have not simplified China for us because China isn’t simple. But they have given us the tools to break China down into its many, many layers and moving parts— its history, its bureaucracies and governments, its markets, its regions, provinces and cities, its ideas, its culture, and most importantly, its people. In the years to come, we will undoubtedly be called upon to explain various aspects of China, to make sense of something that may feel so much larger than our own comprehension. But in these moments, continue to embrace the complexity and ambiguity  that is China. It is a testament to the strength of the CAPS program that we are equipped to pause, reflect, and attempt to unravel these complexities, and not to just simplify them.

Nonetheless, the academics that consumed my time at Cornell barely scratch the surface of the CAPS Levinson program. Being a CAPS major doesn't automatically make you stand out, thought it might because there are only 4 majors and 3 minors in our entire 3000-person graduating class. Beyond the academic rigor, what makes being a CAPS major truly special is the experience.

A cornerstone of our program has been the study abroad experience in Beijing, which recently resumed after a three-year hiatus due to the pandemic. In Beijing, 5 Cornell majors and minors immersed themselves in classes taught in English and Mandarin, undertook internships, and participated in numerous field trips, learning about Zhejiang economic growth model, and the multi-ethnic fabric of Chinese society in Chengde.

But being a CAPS major is also eating Peking duck a week into study abroad with over 30 alumni, academics, and professionals in their 20s to 60s, all of whom consider themselves part of the CAPS community. It’s finding yourself in a cab to the Beijing airport with Hao lao shi and other CAPS majors at 6AM after spending the night at a 酒吧in 五道口wearing a swan princess costume. It’s taking funny photos and learning TikTok dances on the great wall of China in Hebei, or trying 酸奶 and 臭豆腐or even meat for the first time. It’s biking around one of the most beautiful and historical campuses you’ve ever seen at midnight before eventually taking to the chaotic Beijing streets. It’s also not knowing the people you came with all the way to this foreign country you’ve learned so much about but never really understood, and realizing one day, you’ve become you guys have become each other’s lifelines, and you’re laughing till you cry and telling each other things you’ve never told anyone else before in your beautiful singles at Shaoyuan. It’s spending every day together learning about each other’s lives and becoming an integral part of theirs too. And it's realizing you’re having the best time of your life when you look around at the faces the people around, realizing how surreal it is that just a few months ago, you barely knew any of them but now they’re family. And being a CAPS major is knowing that even though back in the US you’re in different classes and different friend groups once again like we never left, no one else will truly understand your experiences you’ve had abroad except for each other. So, to my Beijing family – Ianna, Eric, Alyssa and Michelle – it has been an absolute honour to have shared this experience with you.

Coming to Cornell, all of us have found a community in CAPS. From professors to seniors, to wide eyed freshmen, we know each other’s names and faces, and together, we share a bond of friendship, respect, and dedication that transcends any differences we might have. To the others who weren’t in Beijing last fall – Marie and Brenna it has been absolute pleasure taking classes with you, and learning and growing with you outside the classroom. CAPS has also been the countless conversations and delicious food at Asian Chili Spot and De Tasty, the boba socials, the late-night study sessions. And these moments have become the heart of our CAPS community on campus.

Ultimately, however, this program and this community, would not be what it is without the people who work tirelessly to support it. To our esteemed professors, mentors, and dedicated program coordinators (shout out to Bryant Munson), thank you for all that you do to keep this program going and improving it for future students. Professor Weiss, thank you for leading the program at this critical juncture of US China relations and we wish you all the best in your new role in US China policy. And in particular, I would like to thank Professor Xu Xin, my major advisor for his endless kindness, wisdom, and dedication to this department and its students. 徐老师,您不仅仅在学术上不遗余力地给予了我们巨大的支持,您还在生活中无微不至地支持和关心每一个学生。再次感谢您为我们所做的一。

To our beloved family members and friends, thank you for being our pillars of strength and love. To my grandparents, Gong and Mama, who couldn’t be here today, to Mom, Pap, to my brother, thank you for everything and you mean everything to me. No words can express how grateful I am for your unconditional love and support.
Our journey through these Cornell halls, or in cities across the world,  has been nothing short of remarkable. But this is just the beginning. In the years to come, we will carry with us the lessons we’ve learned as CAPS students, and the moments we’ve shared together as friends. Congratulations to the CAPS graduating class of 2024! May our paths be filled with success, meaning, and endless possibilities. Thank you."

Class of 2024


  • Nicole Mah | 马青雯
  • Ianna Ramdhany Correa |  阮爱林
  • Eric Zhang | 张志达


  • Richard Li | 李睿弛
  • Alyssa Ma | 马玥苒
  • Marie Williams | 江 君

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2024 Nicole Mah