Students urged to boost public health

Dean of the School of Public Health and Health Services Lynn Goldman urged the school’s graduating class to remember their goals should be to help people live longer and happier lives.

“Your GW experience does not end today. It continues from this day forward… In short, don’t be a stranger. Stay in touch with us,” Goldman said.

Goldman also lauded the school’s jump from the middle to the top one-third of graduate schools of public health in the past year – rising from 19th to 16th out of the 39 schools ranked by U.S. News and World Report – and hailed the future construction of a building near Washington Circle that will, for the first time, “bring our school under one roof.”

Kate Roberts, vice president of corporate marketing and communications of Populations Services International, spoke about her work to raise funds and awareness for HIV/AIDS.

Roberts laughed as she walked onstage, casually mentioning that she had been kidnapped two times. Her excitement about her organization, YouthAIDS, and her pursuit of U2’s Bono in support of the campaign kept the tone light. It wasn’t until two years ago at a YouthAIDS gala that Bono recognized her efforts.

“[Bono] called me a lioness…If you get enough nos, it makes the yeses so much more exhilarating,” Roberts said.

With a small kick of her heels, Roberts urged the graduates to follow their dreams through stories of her travels to South Africa, where she realized that her shoes could pay for the meals of the families she visited.

“I looked down at my Gucci loafers – these shoes could feed a family for a year,” Roberts said. “Do I really need them?”

Roberts noted the impact of one particular family haunted by AIDS and the strength of a 10-year-old girl who fled an abusive father to pursue her own dreams of being a makeup artist.

“I am a daughter, a sister, a wife, a friend, a world traveler…I could go on an on,” Roberts said. “The lesson here is it’s okay to change your mind as long as you follow your passion.”

Student speaker Nisha Puntambekar, who graduated with a master’s of public health in global health, charged her fellow graduates to be “ambassadors of global health.”

“I realized the most effective way to most educate and improve health is to start in my own community,” Puntambekar said. “I’ve always been a bit shy…but during my years at GW, I’ve learned to build a community by saying yes to possibility.”

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