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YSPH Graduates Urged to “Expect the Unexpected”

May 25, 2021
by Matt Kristoffersen

As COVID-19 continues to rage, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci told the newest generation of Yale School of Public Health graduates gathered in Amistad Park on Monday that the world needs them now more than ever.

“The challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic at home and abroad have brought into sharp focus the world’s need for the science and art of public health professionals,” the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said to the 186 students earning their M.P.H. degrees as friends, family and guests watched online. Thirty-seven students earned M.S. degrees and 10 earned a Ph.D.

Over six decades of leadership at NIAID, Fauci has advised six presidents on HIV/AIDS and many other domestic and global health issues, and has become a leading government voice on the coronavirus. Fauci was recipient of YSPH’s Centennial C.-E. A. Winslow Award in 2015 in honor of his life’s work in combating domestic and global public health issues.

And from his livestreamed keynote address to the socially distanced group of students, Fauci had more choice advice after technical difficulties arose.

“Expect the unexpected,” he said. “Seize the opportunities to make a difference when the unexpected arises.”

YSPH Dean Sten H. Vermund, M.D., Ph.D., who delivered his commencement speech from the dais, told the graduating class that they were well-equipped to meet the challenges of a post-coronavirus world – and to make sure that the new normal is equitable and fair.

“You have a skillset that the world desperately needs right now,” he said. “We all hope that you leave with pride, knowing that your studies in public health happened at a truly historic time of challenge for our nation and our globe.”

Watch the keynote address by Dr. Anthony S. Fauci here.

Vermund then highlighted the promising work of two YSPH graduates. Joanna Chen, M.P.H. in Biostatistics, researches ways to accelerate the process of drug discovery using artificial intelligence and investigates new treatments for veterans with migraines, among other activities. She was honored as student marshal. Allison Bailey, M.P.H. in Epidemiology of Microbial Diseases, who volunteers extensively for the New Haven community as a contact tracer and in other roles, served as the banner-bearer.

For a graduating class that has spent a considerable portion of their studies remotely, their achievements and scholarship has left quite an impression. “Engaging with you, our future public health leaders, learning about your accomplishments, plans and aspirations, gives me a tremendous sense of optimism for the future of our field,” Vermund said.

Graduate Misikir Wondaferahu Adnew underscored the importance of health equity in her address as the class speaker.

Adnew told her classmates of the challenges that she had to overcome to succeed at YSPH. From dealing with imposter syndrome to being an international student, she said the difficulty also gave her a chance to grow.

“Indeed, I was challenged, but in a good way,” she explained. “I jumped on board the various great opportunities Yale had to offer and learned a lot.”

Public health, Adnew said, works well when its achievements stay out of the news. But when a catastrophic event like the coronavirus pandemic erupts, those working in the background to keep the world safe can play a starring role. And since the pandemic is still a key issue across the globe, Adnew added that she and her classmates are too invested to back away from their calling.

“We are in too deep to shy away because of the imposter syndrome we might have felt when we started. We now have a mandate to communities’ health and well-being – to the betterment of society,” she explained. “But that betterment is time-, geography-, culture- and religion-specific.”

And a YSPH education will be a valuable part of that future.

“As we exit our bubble, let’s become integrated into and known by communities, instead of only being people that the community hears about when disaster strikes,” Adnew explained.

Ted Cohen, D.P.H., M.D., M.P.H., professor of Epidemiology (Microbial Diseases) and co-director of the Public Health Modeling Concentration, served as faculty marshal.

2021 Student Awards

Student Award for Outstanding Contributions in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: Lakai Legg, Jad A. Elharake, and Crystal Ruiz

(This award recognizes distinguished individuals in the graduating class for their impactful dedication to improving the livelihood and well-being of diverse communities.)

Dean’s Prize for Outstanding M.P.H. Thesis: Krzysztof Chwala

Thesis title: “Overseen and Overlooked: Knowledge Production and Care in Public Health Surveillance.”

Wilbur G. Downs, M.D., M.P.H. Outstanding Thesis Prize in International Health: Matthew Benczkowski

Thesis title: “Assessing Changes in the Epidemiology of Cutaneous Leishmaniasis in Southwest Colombia Following the Peace Accord with Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC)”

Henry J. (Sam) Chauncey Jr. Inspiration Award: Misikir Wondaferahu Adnew

(This award was established in recognition of Mr. Sam Chauncey, who developed our program in Health Management. This award from alumni of the Health Management Program is given to a student who exemplifies Mr. Chauncey’s ideals of innovation, integrity, leadership and community service.)

Lowell Levin Award for Excellence in Global Health: Haley Anne Case

(This award is given to a graduating student whose work addresses health promotion and global health.)

Teaching Fellow Award: William Henry Eger

(The Teaching Fellow Award recognizes a YSPH student who demonstrates outstanding performance as a Teaching Fellow and promise as a future teacher.)

2021 Faculty Honors

Distinguished Teaching Award: Dr. Yasmmyn Salinas

Distinguished Student Mentor: Drs. Michael Wininger and Jacob Wallace

Submitted by Ivette Aquilino on May 25, 2021