UCLA International Institute, June 21, 2021 — Joelle Gamble, who graduated from the International Institute in 2012 with a B.A. in international development studies, delivered the commencement address at the institute’s online graduation celebration on Saturday, June 12, 2021. (See the complete commencement website here for her full remarks).
Ms. Gamble, who works as special assistant to President Joe Biden for economic policy on the National Economic Council (NEC), began by congratulating the graduates of the Class of 2021 and inviting them to reflect on their accomplishments and the support of the many people who made those accomplishments possible.
“I can't imagine what it's like to graduate today — the joy you must be feeling, but also the disconnect between how you imagined celebrating this time and the reality of it,” she said.
“We are living in truly extraordinary times. Some of the crises we face in this country, our parents hoped wouldn’t be crises anymore: crises of economic opportunity and racial inequity.
“Others are also unique to our generation: a global pandemic exacerbated by the interconnectivity of the global economy and the climate crisis coming to a head due to years of putting off the hard work of tackling it.”
Gamble considered the impact of the financial crisis of 2008–2009 on her own life and future career. She began her undergraduate studies during the crisis, which forced up tuition rates and led her to become an activist for college affordability.
“That financial crisis is what made me so interested in economic policy inequality and how public policy can be used to help build people up, not just help them weather the economic storms that they are going through. And I get to do that now,” remarked Gamble.
“That hardship that my family faced, that my fellow Bruins faced and so many working families faced…, including families of color in particular — they're all still a part of how I think about how unequal the economy can be and the effects it has on people's lives.
“I now define my career by how much I'm able to do to help working people.”
Gamble encouraged International Institute graduates not to be discouraged by the challenges of looking for work during the lingering coronavirus pandemic. “We graduated in a time of economic turmoil,” she said of her own graduating class. “We found opportunities and so will you.”
The Bruin alumna said began her studies at UCLA with the goal of going to Harvard Law School, checking the latter’s online acceptance statistics every day “to remind myself where I was going.” Yet she abandoned her plans for law school when opportunity knocked in the form of a job focused on economic inequality at the Roosevelt Institute in New York City.
“[It was] something that I knew I was interested in because I’d seen what had happened to so many families when we go through a crisis and people don’t have the support [they need]. The opportunity at that think tank ultimately changed the trajectory of my career.
“We helped grow that think tank from an off-the-radar progressive policy shop into something that eventually began to advise presidential candidates and congressional leadership,” she explained.
Gamble noted, “I've changed my measure of what success is because of the time that I had at UCLA. For me, success is now not a destination.
“By following my values, I ended up being more influential than I thought I would have been when I was set on one approach to my career.
“That doesn't mean that every job needs to be perfectly aligned with exactly how I want to make an impact in the world. That's not always how life works. Sometimes you have other priorities that mean taking a job that isn’t exactly what you want to do,” she advised the Class of 2021.
“But that doesn't mean you can't always work towards what you care about, whether it’s a job, or volunteering, or writing publicly about the policy challenges we face today. Or having hard conversations with someone you know who doesn’t agree with you, or showing up to a protest and making sure that a problem that people weren't paying attention to before comes to light.
“And sometimes just staying focused on the impact of your career rather than a specific title in your career, could actually lead you to that dream job,” she insisted.
At tne National Economic Council in the administration of President Joe Biden, Gamble works with a team of likeminded peers from all over the country. “I've now become the person that I was trying to lobby as an undergrad during the last economic crisis. This is not lost on me,” she reflected.
“I know the experiences that I had growing up and struggling to figure out how to find economic opportunity. And the experiences of people like me matters a lot in the halls of power, especially when we want to build a recovery that is actually equitable, that helps every American.
“These experiences that so many Americans are having, including you, my fellow Bruins, will also lead you down a path to solve problems we face today — and the ones we don't even know yet that we'll have tomorrow.
“You never know how your experiences today, how the unique situations that you're in — even if they can be confusing or different than what you expected — are actually setting you up to do something great in the future,” she concluded.
For more bacground on Gamble's life and career, see this article.