Massachusetts State Secretary of Health and Human Services, Ms. Marylou Sudders, stressed compassion and perspective to the 281 graduates of the Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) assembled May 14.
“We must never forget that behind every dollar and statistic is a very real person,” said Ms. Sudders. Appointed by Governor Mr. Charlie Baker in January 2015, Ms. Sudders leads the largest executive agency in state government — a $19.4 billion state budget with 22,000 dedicated public servants — and oversees critical services that touch one in four residents of the Commonwealth.
However, she said, there are still tremendous challenges to health in Massachusetts: “I am humbled that not even with $19 billion is every child safe from harm, that four people die every day in this great Commonwealth from an opioid overdose, that there are profound disparities in health and educational outcomes depending on one’s zip code.”
Noting her audience’s understanding of the complexity of conditions that make people healthy, Ms. Sudders said that “coverage is only part of the equation. Coverage does not necessary translate into accessibility or affordability. Individuals who are Hispanic, for example, represent 10 percent of the Massachusetts population, and yet are 20 percent of individuals who are uninsured. When we look closer at healthcare status by zip codes, there are glaring disparities.
“Zip codes must not be a predictor of a person’s health status. We must make a pledge in this Commonwealth to eliminate health disparities. We can do it here. This is not just governments’ responsibility. It is our collective responsibility. It is our collective public health responsibility.”
To the graduates just beginning their careers, Sudders said, “Public service needs you. If not now, perhaps later. Public service is a privilege, it’s about channeling your advocacy into shaping good public policy and programs.
“Your graduate education provides a strong platform for public service. Think about it.”
Student speaker Mr. Faiz Kidwai, an MPH recipient committed to equality, equity, and human rights, also urged “radical compassion.” Mr. Kidwai said his family, in emigrating from Pakistan when he was 16, “became poor overnight.” Although his family didn’t have health insurance and lived in subsidized housing, he said, “We were poor, but not that poor, and I wish I could say the same thing for the people who I met at the homeless shelters, emergency rooms, and free health clinics where I volunteered during high school and college. Whatever little privilege I had hit me like a ton of bricks, and I realized that the only reason I sat on this side of the table was due to nothing more than good fortune.”
Mr. Kidwai urged his fellow graduates to always be aware of their own privilege as they go out to combat the inequalities at the root of health issues from obesity to addiction. “At SPH we have learned about the origins and epidemiology of viruses like Zika and Ebola,” he said, “but perhaps more importantly we have learned the origins and epidemiology of injustice, racism, sexism, and oppression.”
Two BUSPH faculty members were honored for their teaching and scholarship during the ceremony. Dr. Gouri Gupte, an assistant professor of health law, policy & management, received the Norman A. Scotch Award for Excellence in Teaching, and Dr. Jonathan Levy, professor and associate chair of environmental health, received the Faculty Career Award in Research and Scholarship. The BUSPH dean, Dr. Sandro Galea, also congratulated Dr. Christopher Gill, associate professor of global health at BUSPH, who would receive the Metcalf Cup for Excellence in Teaching at the University-wide commencement on May 15. The Metcalf Cup is the highest award Boston University gives to its faculty.
A total of 497 students graduated with degrees from SPH in the 2015-2016 school year.
To read more about the BUSPH Convocation, go to: http://www.bu.edu/sph/2016/05/16/ma-health-secretary-to-sph-grads-search-for-the-positive/