At the Milken Institute School of Public Health commencement ceremony Thursday, graduates heard from speakers who encouraged them to be forces for change and stay optimistic in a field that is under threat from the presidential administration.
The ceremony, which celebrated the accomplishments of more than 700 graduates, was held in the Smith Center.
Sporting graduation caps with phrases like “I am my ancestors’ wildest dreams” and “Ph.D bound,” graduates heard from Dean Lynn Goldman and other speakers about the need to support one another and their communities as public health enters a challenging era.
Here’s what you should know about the ceremony:
1. Work diligently, stand your ground
Keynote speaker Roslyn Brock, chairman emeritus of the National Board of Directors for the NAACP, told graduates that it was now their responsibility to go out and improve the lives of people in communities all over the world.
Brock joked that, while she is an ordained Baptist preacher, she didn’t have to speak forever to leave graduates with an important message.
“I could blab on and on about statistics and public health issues in our nation,” she said. “But class is over now.”
Brock told graduates that “seismic political and economic shifts” have made the world a vastly different place than it was when they embarked on their educational journeys just a few years ago. She instructed graduates not to be discouraged by the current political climate.
“Become catalysts for change by your commitment to do quality work that truly changes the world,” she said.
2. Building a community
Student speaker Brenda Trejo talked about the strong and inclusive community she found at GW during the first year of her master’s program.
As Trejo moved across the country to pursue her degree, she found herself without stable housing in D.C. It was the help of classmates and professors, who offered her places to stay and proactively worked with her to find a long-term solution, that made it possible for her to settle in and continue her public health education, she said.
“I learned that we are a community supportive of one another,” she said. “I witnessed this strength time after time.”
Trejo, who is bilingual, repeated a few phrases of her speech in Spanish.
“Sí se puede, sí se pudo,” she said to rousing cheers. “Yes we can, and yes we did.”
3. ‘You will make this world a better place’
Goldman challenged graduates to remember every day why they chose to pursue a public health education.
“I charge you to hold onto your creativity and to keep alive that thirst for knowledge that has guided you through your studies here,” she said.
Goldman told graduates to show respect to everyone, and most importantly to people they disagree with.
She apologized for older generations that have left so much work to be done to protect and maintain the health of communities, but told graduates that the torch has now been passed on to them.
“Never become discouraged,” she said. “Every day, through your actions, you will make this world a better place.”
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