The University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions Florida welcomed Dr. Sherrilene Classen as a distinguished speaker at its convocation ceremony. Dr. Classen, also recognized as the college’s Outstanding Alumna of the Year, is a professor and chair of the college’s department of occupational therapy, and an extraordinary professor at Stellenbosch University in Cape Town, South Africa. She is an internationally funded prevention-oriented rehabilitation scientist who studies fitness-to-drive issues in at-risk drivers using clinical assessments, driving simulators, on-road assessments, in-vehicle technologies and automated vehicles. Her scholarly work uses both a public health and a rehabilitation science approach to bring depth and breadth in understanding driving from multiple perspectives. Since 2002, she has received competitive external funding totaling approximately $6 million from agencies such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of Transportation (DOT), as well as agencies in Canada and abroad. She has authored or co-authored more than 130 peer-reviewed publications, book chapters and special journal issues. Dr. Classen received a master’s in public health with a concentration in epidemiology from the college in 2004.
Dr. Classen offered the audience four concepts that have helped to enrich her own life, which she calls the four As: awareness, approachability, adaptability and authenticity.
Awareness, or mindfulness, involves moment-by-moment realizations of thoughts, feelings and the surrounding environment, as well as being open to experiences without judgement, Dr. Classen said.
“Being aware is a wonderful gift towards the self and a treasure to be shared with others,” she said. “Indeed, awareness helps us to establish a creative and powerful presence while being available to understand the needs of our patients, clients, friends and others.”
Dr. Classen said that approachability relies on an “open and honest disposition” and is the core requirement for excellent interpersonal relationships. In describing adaptability, she stressed the need to anticipate change, embrace it and be ready to change again and again. To strive for authenticity, she suggested graduates ask themselves questions about principles, values, beliefs and dreams to arrive at an understanding of their true self.
In closing, Dr. Classen advised, “Dear graduates, please know that challenges are what you came for. And at the University of Florida — during the course of your studies — you have been given skillsets and toolsets to manage and overcome the real world challenges. Use your awareness, approachability, adaptability and authenticity to be the grandest version of the greatest vision that you have ever held about who you are.”
More than 500 bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral students graduated from the College of Public Health and Health Professions in ceremonies this spring, including 29 students who are the first to graduate from the University of Florida with a bachelor’s degree in public health.