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Public health graduates encouraged to live their lives for others

Dean of the Milken Institute School of Public Health Lynn Goldman celebrates the school's and the graduates' successes during a ceremony. Dan Rich | Contributing Photo Editor
Dean of the Milken Institute School of Public Health Lynn Goldman celebrates the school’s and the graduates’ successes during a ceremony. Dan Rich | Contributing Photo Editor

At the Milken Institute School of Public Health graduation ceremony Saturday, Dean Lynn Goldman and other speakers charged graduates to go forward with their passion for public health to make a difference in other people’s lives.

Before the 465 graduates left Lisner Auditorium with their new degrees, they heard advice on believing in the work they were meant to do and encouraging them to lead with their hearts.

Here are the ceremony’s takeaways:

1. Celebrating successes and setting goals

Goldman opened the ceremony by highlighting some of the school’s accomplishments from the year, including new opportunities for research and a rise in the rankings for both the school’s master’s and undergraduate programs.

She recognized their growing online master’s of public health and master’s of health administration programs, which now have more than 700 students around the world. Some of the first graduates of these online programs came to D.C. and attended the ceremony.

Goldman said she knows all of the graduates understand the importance of public health, and she reminded them to work to achieve the goals of the field.

“Everyone should have the opportunity to live longer and healthier lives,” Goldman said. “Public health is about taking care of all people, and it is our duty as public health professionals to reduce disparities that disproportionately affect the poor and underserved.”

2. Sweatpants and statistics

Patrick Zornow, a master’s of public health graduate, delivered a speech that helped graduates and audience members answer the question, “Where do I go from here?”

Zornow said embracing change has helped him answer this question, which is how he found himself studying public health at GW.

He said he embraced changes in his life while pursuing his degree when he no longer cared about wearing the same pair of sweatpants three days in a row during finals and when he realized he had an “unhealthy” interest in statistics, a field he never imagined enjoying.

Zornow told graduates it is imperative to embrace change and keep an open mind, especially when working in the public health field.

“Other times the changes we make can be a little more difficult,” Zornow said. “It’s not enough for us to stand in an ivory tower shouting down science and statistics saying someone is wrong, because when we do that, we fail to meet people where they are and we limit our ability to understand them.”

3. Nonlinear lives

Keynote speaker Michael Botticelli, the Director of National Drug Control Policy, told stories of his own and others’ substance abuse to remind graduates that it is the people who they will help who make their work matter.

“If we choose to put ourselves in the center of our work, we lose the ability to help the beauty in the people we help shine,” Botticelli said. “Beautiful people do not just happen, and every one of us in this room today not only has the great privilege of helping make beautiful people happen, but we’ve proven that through our hard work we do make beautiful people happen.”

Botticelli began working in public health during his own recovery from a substance abuse disorder. He said he “never believed” he would advise the president of the United States on national drug policies, which has taught him to listen to and understand the power of people’s stories.

“The drive to succeed isn’t only found in people with pristine resumes. Sometimes that drive is even stronger for people who have gone through tough times and come out on the other side,” Botticelli said. “Seek out the people who do not present a linear narrative, who have holes in their resumes. People who have experienced setback, suffering and recovery.”

4. Pledging to improve lives

Every year, a group of public health graduates work together to write a graduation oath that encompasses what they learned during their years as students and that serves as a reminder of the work they are setting out to do.

The ceremony closed after all graduates read the oath aloud and pledged to promote wellness in their public health professions.

Like these photos? You can purchase your personal photo from this graduation ceremony online at:

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