Our Strategic Vision

Checking In With Our College-Aged Alums: Sam Francis ’17


Every year we checks in with our alums who are either in college or have just graduated. With the pandemic, the economic downturn, and the national demand for social justice, this is a crucial year to find out how our alums are coping.

Sam Francis, A Rising Senior at Brandeis University (BFS ’17)

What year are you in at college?

I am a senior at Brandeis University, majoring in business and minoring in economics.

Tell me about your work at college.

At college, I am part of the jazz ensemble on campus where we play semester concerts for the Brandeis community to enjoy. I also work two jobs at college, one as a lifeguard at the campus pool, and the other as a teaching assistant at a local pre-school.

What has this year looked like for you, pre- and during the pandemic?

Pre-pandemic, classes and college in general were going well. However, during the pandemic, the shift to online learning was difficult. I’m glad that Brandeis made the transition as seamless as possible.

What’s the plan for the summer and fall?

Right now, for the rest of the summer, I have an internship at a multi-billion dollar global investment management firm called Millennium Management in New York City. In the fall, I plan to pick up where I left off before we all had to switch to virtual learning and finish my senior year strong.

What age did you enter BFS?

I entered BFS at 3 years old.

What teachers had a profound effect on your experience at BFS?

Zenzile Keith is a BFS former math department head and a former BFS math teacher. Throughout math class, I always remember her pushing us hard with a firm but encouraging hand, as she saw the potential we all had to become great. Because of Zenzile, I rediscovered my love for math. Zenzile may very well have been the personified qualities of “hard work” and “determination.” I remember that even when Zenzile was pregnant with her third child, she still came in early and stayed late to help students in and out of her class with things they were having trouble with. Not only was Zenzile an outstanding math teacher and a fantastic example to live by, but she was also a fearless advocate for students of color in the BFS community and words truly do no justice in capturing my gratitude for her. Speaking truth to power, one of the mantras of Quakerism, is what Zenzile did daily and she was not afraid to risk her position or make some people uncomfortable when she was lifting up the unheard voices of students at BFS, even when others would not do the same. My experience at BFS was exponentially improved by having such a selfless and strong black woman to rely on in times of need. 

Orinthia Swindell is the former diversity director at BFS, taking over from former diversity director Dr. Eddie Moore. Every day at BFS, Orinthia’s office was a beacon of light in the hallways and her embracing warmth helped me feel comfortable in my own skin. In my senior year, I will never forget how she made it her ultimate goal that I and several other students attend the White Privilege Conference. This conference helped me learn the tools and obtain the skillsets to fight oppression and racism in this country. Not only did she do this, but her involvement was also crucial in the organization of my last Privilege Day in senior year, a day that many students at BFS hold close to their hearts. During this time, professionals and students alike organized workshops throughout the day to teach their peers about the multifaceted term “Privilege” and all its applications from race, age, gender, ability, sexual orientation, etc. She was a rock in the BFS community, and I will always remember the impact she had on my maturation at BFS.

What advice would you give current students at BFS?

Speak truth to power, no matter the circumstances or institutions you become a part of.

How did the Quaker education you received at BFS prepare and guide you for your studies at college, on a micro and macro level? (For example, daily life and challenges, as well as the larger issues of growing up, being away from home, and navigating the world of the university for the first time).

The Quaker education at BFS has helped me be more comfortable using my own voice in any situation. Whether it be speaking up in class or speaking up against oppression, I will always remember the lessons that BFS taught me about the importance of being heard.

What’s a lesson you’re taking from these last several months that you feel will impact your growth or has made you more resilient?

One of the lessons that I’ve taken from these last several months is the importance of embracing adversity. So much is going on at once right now and it is very overwhelming. In times like these, being able to accept what has happened and finding ways to work around, even with the cards we are dealt, is a true test of character. This has helped me immensely in the past few months and it is a sure way to work towards future success.