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Agent of change

On a Dialogue of Civilizations program in China, Sarah Tishler ate massive bowls of noodles, tofu and bok choy with migrant laborers at a tiny restaurant near a warehouse.

“Eating there every day and talking to the owners and customers was the first time I truly stepped out of my own comfort zone and got a taste of what life is like for people in China,” said Tishler, who was named the 2011 student commencement speaker by members of the University’s senior leadership team.

The triple major—French, psychology and international affairs—said international experiential learning opportunities are a “great way of broadening your perspectives and thinking about how things are done in other cultures.”

Tishler, one of Northeastern’s 100 Most Influential Seniors, would know. She conducted research on the relationship between climate change, migration and conflict while on co-op at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, in Switzerland; studied economics, international affairs and French literature at Institut Catholique, in Paris, France; and tackled Mandarin at Nanjing University in China.

She received a Harold D. Hodgkinson Award for academic and experiential excellence—the highest honor bestowed upon a senior—at the inaugural Academic Honors Convocation in April. Tishler was also named a Presidential Global Fellow in recognition of her stellar background in global co-op, study and research.

“The most valuable lesson that I learned on co-op is that you have to take responsibility for everything you do,” said Tishler, who completed her first co-op in the Executive Bureau of the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office. “When you go on co-op, you take ownership of what you produce.”

She credited professors Tom Havens, Denise Horn and Denise Garcia for guiding her through her experience at Northeastern, and said she was eager to address some 22,000 graduating students, their families and friends at the University’s 109th commencement.

The theme of her commencement speech, she said, is embracing change. “Rather than look at graduation as a sad ending, I choose to look at it as a happy beginning,” said Tishler, who practiced her speech in front of a mirror dozens of times. “Our class is going to go on to do bigger and better things.”

Tishler has been accepted into the Duke University School of Law—she plans to become an international human rights lawyer for Doctors Without Borders or the International Committee of the Red Cross — but she deferred her acceptance until fall 2012.

In May, she will return to the Geneva Centre for Security Policy to continue conducting in-depth research on the relationships among climate change, migration and global security.

As it turns out, attending law school might have been Tishler’s plan even before she was old enough to say, “lawsuit.” In a photo recently found by her parents, Tishler—hairless and sitting in a high chair — is wearing a food-stained bib that says, “Future Lawyer.”

“It’s actually a really cute photo,” she said.