2013 U-M School of Public Health Graduation

"As a "dexterous discipline," public health is "perfectly suited to our complex, changing world."

- Thomas Goetz tells U-M SPH class of 2013.

News Release

May 8, 2013, release from the University of Michigan School of Public Health.

ANN ARBOR—With smiles as radiant as sunshine outdoors, degree candidates of the University of Michigan School of Public Health marched across the stage of U-M's historic Hill Auditorium on May 2, 2013. One group of jubilant graduates spelled out “G-O  B-L-U-E!” on their mortarboards.

Speakers repeatedly reminded the graduating class of the sobering health challenges facing the world, but said that as public health professionals they now have the skills to help solve those problems.

“Indeed, innovation is a hallmark of this institution, and a primary focus of our efforts here today,” said U-M SPH Dean Martin Philbert. He presided at the ceremony, which was attended by friends and family who’d traveled from near and far to applaud the achievements of the 413 graduating students, who come from 20 countries and 254 undergraduate institutions throughout the world.

Remarks on behalf of the students

Jillian Reich, a graduating M.P.H. student from the Department of Health Behavior and Health Education, addressed her fellow members of the class of 2013, their families, guests, and professors onstage. Reich began by saying she’d finished her speech three weeks ago but had rewritten it after the events of April 15, 2013. That day, as a newly appointed Emergency Preparedness Educator with the Boston Public Health and Boston Emergency Medical Services, Reich was assigned to work the finish line of the Boston marathon. “If I close my eyes I can still hear the explosions and the sirens,” she said. “I can smell the smoke.”

Reich told the audience she witnessed “incredible courage and selflessness” that day, as well as “the most skilled, coordinated, and compassionate first response that this country has seen in decades.” She praised U-M SPH for having taught her the skills to do her job. “If I had to wake up tomorrow and relive the 15th of April over again, I would,” Reich said to a rapt auditorium. “The only thing I would do differently is to find a way to do it better. That is the Michigan difference. That is what sets public health apart from the rest.”

Felice Le, a Ph.D. candidate in epidemiology, also spoke to her fellow members of the class of 2013. “During the past two years we have witnessed devastating natural and man-made disasters, mass political upheaval in the Middle East, tragic gun violence, and ongoing debate about the Affordable Care Act,” Le said. The public health implications of such events “represent complex challenges” whose solutions demand interdisciplinary collaboration, the development of adaptable new solutions, and “outside-of-the-box connections between seemingly dissimilar concepts,” Le continued. “Our training at the UM School of Public Health has given us the mindset and the tools to do this, and now it’s up to us to put them into action.”

Faculty Honorees

Faculty recipients of the school’s annual awards were announced at the ceremony:

  • Kenneth E. Warner, the Avedis Donabedian Distinguished University Professor of Public Health and former dean, received the Excellence in Teaching Award, presented by Ph.D. candidate Emily Jean Youatt.
  • Arline Geronimus, professor of health behavior and health education, received the Excellence in Research Award, presented by Associate Dean for Research Alfred Franzblau.
  • Amy Schulz, professor of health behavior and health education and associate director of the Center for Research on Ethnicity, Culture and Health, received the Eugene Feingold Diversity Award, presented by Judith Compton of the Office of Public Health Practice.

Address by Thomas Goetz

U-M SPH's main speaker for graduation 2013 was Thomas Goetz, M.A., M.P.H., entrepreneur-in-residence at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and former executive editor of WIRED magazine. Goetz began by telling the class of 2013 they had chosen “the best degree possible, pound for pound, ounce for ounce, penny for penny,” because a degree in public health means “you can do anything.” He described a public health degree as “the Swiss Army Knife of disciplines, the Craftsman Tool Chest of academia.”

As a “dexterous discipline,” public health is “perfectly suited to our complex, changing world,” Goetz said. His own engagement with the discipline was inspired by his two sisters, he explained, both of whom earned graduate degrees in public health. His older sister died in the service of public health while helping to run a nutritional program for mothers and children in Uganda. By example, she taught him that those who enjoy the “social cocktail” of opportunity have an obligation to give back to society. “She has inspired many,” Goetz said, and told the graduates, “Your degree confers on you a duty to do something, a duty to act, a duty to do.”

Goetz spoke of the critical role technology now plays in public health in such areas as disease tracking, but he warned the class that “having the data isn’t the same thing as having the answers.” Asking the right questions, he said, is still the “hardest part” of public health.

Goetz closed by advising the new graduates to “leave the academy behind” and “improve lives in real time,” and to “leave the world as it exists behind. Know that it must change.”

Closing Remarks, New Starts

After the presentation of graduates, Dean Philbert invited guests to a reception on Ingalls Mall near Burton Towerat which all the plates, cups, napkins, etc. "are made with 100-percent compostable materials." The announcement was greeted with enthusiastic applause.

"You are going to make a difference.  You have chosen to dedicate your lives to bettering the health and well-being of your fellow human beings.  I know of no greater calling," he concluded.

This year the School of Public Health, in partnership with the U-M School of Information, confers the first Master of Health Informatics (M.H.I.) degree.  Other degrees offered by the school include the Master of Public Health (M.P.H.), Master of Health Services Administration (M.H.S.A.), Master of Science (M.S.), and Doctor of Philosphy (Ph.D.). 

Contact: Terri Mellow, Senior Media Strategist
Phone: (734) 764-8094
E-mail: twm@umich.edu

Photo & Video

 Videos from the 2013 graduation ceremony

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