On Sunday, April 29, the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health welcomed over 200 graduates into the school’s alumni community at our annual Convocation. “Our alumni cohort is now 7,000 people deep, since the school’s founding 70 years ago. Our impressive alumni give the school an international network of influence and the ability to impact a huge spectrum of public health issues,” said senior associate dean Dr. Eleanor Feingold.
Hundreds of friends and family members excitedly watched these latest graduates march across the stage to commemorate their academic achievement. Dean Donald S. Burke, the school’s longest-standing dean, saluted their dedication and perseverance, thanked friends and family for support of loved ones throughout graduate school, and wished these young leaders luck as they enter the world of public health with the unique and privileged opportunity to directly influence people’s lives for the better. “Go out and make a difference. I know you can.”
Pennsylvania’s highest-ranking health official, Dr. Rachel Levine, the state’s secretary of health and physician general, delivered the convocation address. Dr. Levine summarized her own life path and encouraged graduates to stay calm and confident while planning big. “Have big goals for your career. And keep your idealism — you still have that – I can see it in your faces. It will be shaped by realism, and that’s normal — but don’t lose your idealism. And know that life will take you on many turns, and send you on many unexpected paths, and I am confident that your education here will prepare you for all of those roads, those expected and unexpected.”
Dr. Levine also talked about the opioid epidemic – calling it the “biggest public health crisis that we face here in Pennsylvania, and you could argue, the nation.” She both heralded the work that Pennsylvania has already done with Pitt Public Health and encouraged this year’s graduates to be a part of the solution. “It is really the health issue of our time, and we have to work on it together,” she said. The Department of Health is working with Pitt Public Health faculty on a data dashboard to look at the impact that the crisis has on various systems and to drive a strategic response. “We recently have established our Data Dashboard 1.0, and with the help of Dean Burke, the faculty, and a $1 million grant from the Aetna Foundation, we will be working on Data Dashboard 2.0. and to see the impact that this crisis is having on the patients, the families, the economy, the criminal justice system, etc. Understanding the societal impacts is crucial to our response, and we hope to arm ourselves as State officials, but also local officials with the data that they need to understand the communities’ needs and to use data to drive our strategic response.”
The Craig Teaching Award, given annually during the event, went this year to Dr. Aaron Barchowsky, faculty in the department of environmental and occupational health. Dr. Barchowsky was selected for the 2018 award for his respect for his students, his approachability, and his constant work to improve his teaching.
One of the 2017-18 graduates was chosen as a speaker at the University-wide commencement ceremony earlier that week. Epidemiology doctoral graduate Dr. Lara Simenerio Lemon also spoke to the benefits of the education afforded Pitt Public Health graduates when she addressed the crowd, both summarizing her experiences while at Pitt Public Health and charging graduates, “You only have one life. So do what you choose with it but remember: it’s the only chance you’ll get … Please do not lose the momentum that Pitt has provided to each one of us … Get out there and do what you’re trained to do.”