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.