‘Resilient’ 2022 Graduates Celebrate Achievements at SPH Convocation
In the school’s first in-person Convocation since 2019, the SPH community, families, and friends gathered to celebrate the 2022 graduates at the BU Track & Tennis Center on Saturday, May 21.
On Saturday, May 21, the School of Public Health community, family, and friends gathered at the Boston University Track & Tennis Center to celebrate the accomplishments of graduates at the 2022 SPH Convocation. Held in person for the first time since 2019, the event recognized the resilience of the graduating class amidst the profound challenges of the last two years, and embraced a collective commitment to shape change, invest in community, and lead the fight for a more equitable, healthier world for all.
Convocation keynote speaker Dr. Bisola Ojikutu urged graduates to lean into the inevitable “defining moments” they will experience throughout their public health career. These moments, she said, are “times in life when you will encounter someone or experience something that clarifies your purpose and helps you find direction.”
As an infectious disease physician, health equity researcher, associate professor at Harvard Medical School, and now executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission, Ojikutu has had many of these moments. She has headed the organization since September 2021, steering the ship as the city navigates the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. “Being Commissioner of Public Health at this moment in time in Boston is by far the most challenging—and yet the most gratifying—defining moment in my career, thus far,” she said.
The challenges of this new role during such an unsettling time are “obvious,” she said, pointing to the more than 7 million people who have died from COVID-19 around the world, and highlighting the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on Black, Latinx, and Indigenous populations, the cracks in the foundation of the public health infrastructure that have been glaringly exposed, and the high rates of attrition from the public health workforce.
“More than two years in, our resources, our capacity, and our bandwidth are stretched thin. We are all tired,” she said.
In the wake of the pandemic and all of its challenges, Ojikutu shared ways in which she believes graduates and other public health leaders can shift the field “towards a new day.” These include reimagining what public health looks like both locally and globally, being brave in both words and actions, investing in recruiting and retaining “good people,” and building a sustainable infrastructure that keeps public health front and center.
This is your defining moment.
“These are both challenging and gratifying times. You are here today because you have done something extraordinary,” she said to graduates in closing. “You completed your degree during a period of unprecedented uncertainty and crisis. It is more than a milestone. This is your defining moment.”
Student speaker Samantha Burkhart, an MPH recipient dedicated to addressing issues of inequity and poor health at their root, also spoke about the challenges of the last two years, highlighting the importance of community in the face of uncertainty.
She opened her address to graduates with a reflection on her first interaction with an SPH community member, the late Professor David Jones. After frantically cancelling her visit to campus in Spring 2020, Jones talked her through the ins and outs of SPH and gave her a Google Maps walking tour of campus. It was after this conversation, Burkhart said, that she knew SPH was the place for her.
“Professor David Jones’ kindness and dedication showed me the heart of the school: the people and community that bind us together,” she said. “And it is this community that carried us through the program in the midst of what often felt like an impossible learning environment.”
In addition to the many hardships faced by graduates due to the pandemic, Burkhart spoke about the “preventable and unnecessary suffering” around the world that she and her classmates experienced and witnessed over the last two years in the form of racism, sickness, war, insurrection, and an attack on abortion rights, to name a few.
“Public health has and continues to face an uphill battle,” she said. “But at this moment, the field of public health is at a crossroads, and we are the ones who can decide its fate.”
Amidst the challenges, frustrations, and exhaustion, Burkhart encouraged her classmates that hope remains. “There are over 400 of us graduating today. We are one of 230 public health schools and programs in the country, and there are many more throughout the world,” she said. “In one year alone, thousands of us will enter the field, each bringing our unique experiences, skills, and identities to advance the work of public health.”
She called on graduates to remember these numbers and find comfort in them when they “feel overwhelmed by the amount of work that needs to be done.”
I ask that you lean into each other, our lived experiences, and the work that binds us.
“Let them fill you with hope,” she said. “We have a vastly talented, dedicated, and passionate community of people to lean on, to learn from, and to help carry the momentum that we have created together at BUSPH. I ask that you lean into each other, our lived experiences, and the work that binds us.”
After each degree was awarded and all 435 graduates crossed the stage, alumni speaker Susan Garfield (SPH’11), Chief Health Officer at EY Americas, encouraged graduates to continue to build connections, collaborations, and partnerships to work toward solving the most pressing issues of our time, including climate change, health inequities, racial injustice, gun violence, and reproductive health access.
“Each of you have your own story and how you got here,” she said. “Your story defines you and your purpose, and it defines what you’re going to do after graduating. We can’t wait to see what that is.”
As the world continues to grapple with the global challenges of the last two years and what it truly means to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, Dean Sandro Galea encouraged graduates that they “make it easy to be optimistic about the future.”
“We have seen all the good you have done as students, and we eagerly look forward to all you will do as alumni,” he said. “Because we know all you have done here, we know that the end of today’s ceremony marks the start of the creation of a better world, with you leading that effort.”
Yvette Cozier, associate dean for diversity, equity, inclusion and justice, spoke to graduates about the strengths of the SPH community, and highlighted the school’s deep commitment to bringing diversity and inclusion into all that we do. She underlined the importance of instilling these values into all public health work and urged graduates to carry these values close to their hearts as they enter the field.
“As you leave today, you leave with more than just your degree. You leave with a seat at the table,” she said. “You are now public health professionals. Where decisions are made about health—that is where you will be. In bringing your unique perspectives to the table in your lives and careers, you will help create a better world for us all. Keep using your voices. Keep sharing your perspectives. Keep keeping the conversation about health honest. Keep being yourselves.”
Saturday’s ceremony also celebrated the accomplishments of other members of the SPH community. Two faculty members were honored for teaching and scholarship: Megan Healey, clinical assistant professor of epidemiology, received the Norman A. Scotch Award for Excellence in Teaching, and Eugene Declercq, professor of community health sciences, received the Faculty Award for Excellence in Research and Scholarship.
Student Caroline Slyer, an MPH recipient, received the Leonard H. Glantz Award for Academic Excellence.
Wendy Heiger-Bernays, clinical professor of environmental health, received the Award for Excellence in Public Health Practice, and Michael Winter, associate director of statistical programming at the Biostatistics and Epidemiology Data Analytics Center, received the Dzidra J. Knecht Staff Award for Distinguished Service.
The 2021 award recipients were also recognized at the event since last year’s Convocation ceremony was held in a virtual format. Hiba Abousleiman received the Leonard H. Glantz Award for Academic Excellence; Monica Onyango, clinical associate professor of global health, received the Norman A. Scotch Award for Excellence in Teaching; Roberta White, emeritus professor of epidemiology, received the Faculty Award for Excellence in Research and Scholarship; Patricia Gonzalez, director of administration in the Department of Community Health Sciences, received the Dzidra J. Knecht Staff Award for Distinguished Service; and Monica Wang, associate professor of community health sciences, received the Award for Excellence in Public Health Practice.
A separate SPH Awards Ceremony on May 20 featured the presentation of additional awards for outstanding contributions and achievements to the SPH community. The award recipients are:
- Excellence in Student Services & Leadership Award:
- Student Award for Excellence in Public Health Practice:
- Gail Douglas Award:
- Eugene Declercq Award for Excellence in a Public Health Practice Dissertation:
- Community Health Sciences “Rising Star” Award:
- Restuccia Award for Achievement in Social Justice in Community Health:
- James F. Burgess Award for the Best Student Paper in Health Services Research: Samantha Auty
- Allan R. Meyers Memorial Award for Excellence in Health Policy & Management:
Abigail Hope Dodds and Samantha Burkhart
- Dr. William B. Patterson Memorial Prize for Excellence in Environmental and Occupational Health:
- Dr. Theodore Colton Prize for Excellence in Epidemiology:
- Epidemiology Academic Excellence Award:
Liza Rachelle Gibbs
- Center for Health Law, Ethics and Human Rights Award:
Gargi Pandey and Mia Touma
- The John Snow, Inc. Award in Global Health:
Bolanle Feyisayo Banigbe
- Herb Kayne Prize for Excellence in Biostatistics:
- Biostatistics Academic Excellence Award:
- Biostatistics Excellence in Research Award:
- Excellence in Teaching Award for Teaching in the Core:
- Excellence in Teaching Award for Student Engagement:
- Excellence in Teaching Award for Dedication to Student Learning:
- Excellence in Research Early Career Award:
- Excellence in Research Innovation Award:
Birgit Claus Henn
- Excellence in Research Mentoring Award:
- Staff Excellence Award in Collaboration:
- Staff Excellence Award in Mentorship or Training:
- Staff Excellence Award in Leadership:
- The Karen Smith Award: