Cheered by family, friends, professors, and other well-wishers, more than 600 Masters and 40 doctoral students were awarded degrees at the Mailman University School of Public Health’s 2018 Commencement.
“You have the capacity to build from the evidence, the courage to meet the challenges that exist in the world today with rigorous science and the willingness to bring reasoned and objective solutions to bear and lead with success,” said Dean Linda P. Fried in her address to students. “I look at the 669 faces of this graduating class, and I feel hopeful. Despite these undeniable challenges, this is a group of individuals who do not back down from the problems that confront us.”
Dr. Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi the Vaccine Alliance, delivered the keynote address and received the Dean’s Visionary Leadership Award. Since its inception in 2000, Gavi has supported the immunization of more than 640 million children in low-income countries and, as a result, prevented more than 9 million deaths.
In introducing Dr. Berkley, Dean Fried cited his tireless advocacy for vaccines and immunization with a clear mandate: to create a world where life-saving vaccines are available to everyone who needs them, regardless of their ability to pay. “Under his leadership, Gavi continues to seek innovative ways to improve vaccination rates and help countries to improve outbreak response. Dr. Berkley is an inspiration to us all.”
A medical doctor and epidemiologist, Dr. Berkley joined Gavi in 2011, spearheading its mission to protect the world’s poorest children by improving access to new and underused vaccines. Since that time, Gavi confirmed $7.5 billion in donor commitments to support the immunization of 300 million children by 2020 — saving some 5 to 6 million additional lives — and defined a new strategy emphasizing vaccine coverage and equity for 2016-2020. Prior to Gavi, Dr. Berkley founded the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) in 1996, the first vaccine product development public-private sector partnership.
“Public health is an honorable and necessary profession that is often under sung, but almost always over-delivering,” Dr. Berkley expressed to the Mailman graduating class. “This extraordinary mission you are all embarking on is something to be incredibly proud of.”
“Science and technology are propelling our societies to places we once could only dream of, yet at the same time there are global trends at work that are threatening to undermine that same progress,” he noted.
“Let science and truth be your guides and fight for them. and let the whispers of public health speak as loudly as they should,” said Dr. Berkley, who is also a former member of the Mailman School epidemiology faculty. “I know we can quietly continue to change the world.”
Ms. Essie Essamba Quakyi, an MPH graduate in the department of sociomedical sciences, was selected by a committee of students, faculty, and staff to represent her class and spoke on the altruistic spirit of public health and the importance of being fearless to ensure the health and human rights of others. Ms. Quakyi addressed her classmates with these words, “Public health is selfless, and when the work is done right, it is silent. Our task is to create a world where we are no longer needed, and that space of altruism is the definition of Public Health”
The ceremony concluded with Dean Fried leading the graduates with the recitation of the Oath for Public Health Professionals, a tradition established at the Mailman School.
At a morning ceremony, Deans Julie Kornfeld and Linda Cushman presented Ms. Celia Anne Wright, MPH graduate in health policy and management, with the Bernard Challenor Spirit Prize for “building community, across department boundaries at the Mailman School,” and Ms. Chelsea Samone Wynn, MPH graduate in sociomedical sciences, with the Campbell Award for “exceptional leadership and Columbia Spirit.” An additional 34 individuals received awards in 26 categories.