Message of peace and goodwill hits home for student commencement speaker
During the season when “peace on earth” is often heard, UofL graduating senior Branka Damjanovic wants to do her part to make the phrase a reality.
Damjanovic, a College of Arts and Sciences English and sociology major who will speak at the university’s Dec. 18 commencement, has seen firsthand the wreckage of war.
The Bosnian War (1992-1995) caused the Damjanovic family to separate—her mother and sisters lived in a rural area of Herzegovina while her father headed to Germany to find work to support them.
The family was displaced when Damjanovic was born in Croatia in 1992 and they did not live together again until they resettled in the United States in 1999. During those seven years, Damjanovic had pictures and phone calls from her father but did not actually know what it meant to have a father until the family was reunited in Louisville.
Damjanovic learned English quickly and, in an effort to smooth the way for others, volunteered at James Lees Presbyterian Church to teach English to other non-native English speakers. Damjanovic says that working with immigrants and refugees is her passion and, as she sought ways to assist them, took an internship with the legal services office of Kentucky Refugee Ministries, a decision that helped solidify her plans to attend law school in the fall.
At age 17, Damjanovic got a job and took responsibility for her own finances, including paying for college. She graduates from UofL with a 3.7 grade point average and, in addition to her double major, she has earned minors in linguistics and political science.
As a UofL student, she returned to Bosnia and Herzegovina to study the impact of peacebuilding efforts. Her interest in peace—fueled by her own experiences—led her to earn a certificate in Peace, Justice and Conflict Transformation, a relatively new program at UofL.
Damjanovic said earning the certificate was a transformative experience.
“It was a very personal choice and it has, arguably, shaped my undergraduate career the most. When I started, I just wanted to learn about peace and was fascinated that there were methods of conflict transformation,” Damjanovic said. “I thought I would study peace so I could learn about how to prevent war. It has helped define what I want to work towards and given me multiple opportunities to explore different ways of doing so.”
In her commencement address, Damjanovic will talk about how her college professors boosted her confidence.
“One of my favorite quotes is ‘doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will’ and that means not being afraid of your own potential,” Damjanovic said.