Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser peered at the 107 public health students gathered for Commencement in Battell Chapel on May 23 and called them “strange.” In a culture that insists that “everything is better when it’s for profit,” he said, these new graduates of the School of Public Health believe in “incredibly old-fashioned” ideas: the public good, the public interest and public service.

“There is nothing more important than the public health,” said Schlosser, a journalist whose bestselling book describes how the fast food industry has transformed America’s diet and its economy. “We have lost sight of this basic truth, and the greed and the selfishness of the past two decades have obscured it.” Even the wealthiest will not be safe from what Schlosser calls “the great levelers of mankind: the viruses and microbes that don’t really care where you went to school.”

Good public health saves money in the long run, said Schlosser. Just as disease mapping helped pioneering epidemiologist John Snow, M.D., discover the water pump responsible for much of a London cholera outbreak in 1854, modern maps would locate the American public health crisis in the poorest neighborhoods. “It is an illusion—a dangerous illusion—to think that the poor health of the poor can be ignored. We will all pay for it one way or another,” said Schlosser, noting that microbes from a sick busboy can find their way into the finest of gourmet meals.

In closing, Schlosser told the graduates, “We need more strange people like you. I have enormous respect for the path you have chosen.”

Also speaking was graduate Reshma Trasi, who told her classmates to persist despite barriers and to listen. “The next time you want to say something, try stopping yourself and letting the other person talk. … It will open your mind.”

The students chose Elizabeth H. Bradley, M.B.A., Ph.D. ’96, associate professor of public health, for the Award for Excellence in Teaching, her third in her nine-year career at Yale.

Other awardees included Lisa M. DiFedele, Farnoosh Hashemian, Asa Margolis and Bonnie E. Gould Rothberg, M.D. ’94, HS ’96, each of whom received a Dean’s Prize for outstanding master’s thesis.

The Wilbur G. Downs International Health Prize went to Anna Beitin; the Henry J. (Sam) Chauncey Jr. Inspiration Award to Elinor Schwimmer; and the Cortlandt Van Rensselaer Creed Award to Edward Magee and Anika Hines.