Meet the speakers honoring 2024 doctoral, master’s degree recipients

During the Arts & Sciences Graduate Studies Hooding and Recognition Ceremony on May 10, students Chukwuebuka Ibeh and Macy Sprunger will join alumnus Felix Brandon Lloyd, MFA ‘08, in addressing the Class of 2024.

Here, the speakers reflect on their time at WashU, their hopes for the future, and their wishes for the graduating class.

Master’s Student Speaker: Chukwuebuka Ibeh

Chukwuebuka Ibeh

Chukwuebuka Ibeh was thrilled when he was accepted to the English department’s MFA program for creative writing. “It happens to be one of the best in the United States, and I was very lucky to be accepted,” he said.

Originally from Port Harcourt, Nigeria, Ibeh came to St. Louis in 2022 to attend WashU. Before that, he had studied creative writing under Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Dave Eggers, and Tash Aw at Adichie’s workshop in Nigeria, where he was one of just 22 writers selected to participate. Electric Literature profiled Ibeh as one of the “most promising new voices of Nigerian fiction” and he was named a runner-up for the 2021 J.F. Powers Prize for fiction. His work has been published by McSweeney’s, The New England Review of Books, and Lolwe.

When he arrived at WashU, Ibeh fell in love with the architecture, passing time with walks around campus. During his time in the MFA program, he enjoyed participating in workshops where exchanges with colleagues helped him refine his work.  

He plans to speak to the Class of 2024 about growth, change, and the need to take risks and be “audacious.” He’ll also focus on the importance of self-belief.

When he takes the stage in May, it won’t be the first time he’s addressed his fellow students. In 2023, Ibeh delivered the TEDxWUSTL talk "What are African values?" about the tension between inclusivity and a sense of African authenticity. That experience was a profound source of inspiration for him, one he believes will endure long after he departs WashU. 

He already has a lot to look forward to. A month after graduation, his first novel, “Blessings,” will be published in eight territories and four languages. “I’m excited to see what path it takes,” he said of his book. "It’s been a long time coming, and it feels so near now."

Doctoral Student Speaker: Macy Sprunger

Macy Sprunger

A native of Iowa, Macy Sprunger wanted to stay in the Midwest to pursue her PhD in chemistry. But what ultimately sold her on WashU was the people. “When I visited the chemistry department in 2017, it felt very welcoming,” she said.

Sprunger found a mentor in Meredith Jackrel, an assistant professor of chemistry who studies proteins involved in ALS. “We started here at the same time,” Sprunger said. “It was exciting to join a lab that was just beginning.”

Sprunger felt so at home in Jackrel’s lab that she never left. After finishing her PhD last December, she became a staff scientist, a role that allows her to continue her research while mentoring current students. 

As a biochemist who studies proteins with important medical implications, Sprunger often collaborates with researchers across WashU. She’s in close contact with researchers at the Hope Center for Neurological Disorders who work directly with ALS patients carrying the same mutations she studies in the lab. “One thing I’ve always appreciated about the university is my ability to make connections across departments,” she said. 

WashU’s world-class equipment doesn’t hurt, either. Sprunger fondly remembers many hours spent peering through powerful microscopes to better understand the structure of proteins. “The equipment here opens up all sorts of possibilities to ask new questions,” she said. “Every time they trained me on a microscope and let me run it myself I thought, ‘Are you sure you trust me to do this?’ But I've grown more confident over the years.” 

In her remarks, Sprunger will address the importance of active learning in all areas of life. “We might be moving on from academics, but we’re not done learning,” she said. “I had a son a year and a half ago, and I’ve been learning a lot about myself and figuring out how to be a mom.”

Alumni Speaker: Felix Brandon Lloyd

Felix Brandon Lloyd, MFA ‘08

Felix Brandon Lloyd, MFA ‘08, believes in the power of storytelling. As he prepares to address the Class of 2024, Lloyd said he will focus on the art of narrative, a skill honed during his time at WashU. “Storytelling has always been a part of the journey to being an entrepreneur,” he said. 

In 2012, Lloyd co-founded Zoobean with his wife Jordan Lloyd Bookey. Together, they sought to provide curated reading materials to families and strengthen children's literacy. Following a 2014 appearance on "Shark Tank" and an investment from Mark Cuban, the company subtly shifted its focus to helping librarians and educators motivate communities to read through the use of gamification techniques. Schools and public libraries across the country, including the St. Louis Public Library and the St. Louis County Library, use their website and mobile apps.

As a fiction writer in the English department’s MFA program, Lloyd participated in workshops where he learned to listen deeply and accept feedback on his work, lessons he uses today as Zoobean’s CEO.

Though Lloyd came to WashU to become a writer, he also got his first taste of pitching a startup during his time on campus. He entered the Skandalaris Venture Competition with a business plan for a financial education game for children. “I think I won that pitch competition, in part, because I knew how to tell a good story,” he said. “Part of selling your business early is giving people a vision when you don’t yet have it all baked out.” 

One of Lloyd’s messages to graduates will be the importance of following their career wherever it takes them, even if it’s not part of their initial plan. “I didn’t win a Pulitzer or write a bestselling novel — at least not yet,” he said. “But it’s a wonderful journey. Part of what happens after commencement day is embracing what comes next.”