A Call to Action: Dr. Leana Wen Urges Class of 2019 to Stand Up for Public Health
On Wednesday May 22, thousands of faculty, staff, family and friends gathered to celebrate the 675 graduates of the School of Public Health at the UMD Xfinity Center. The SPH class of 2019 included 32 doctoral, 83 master's and 542 bachelor's recipients.
Dean Boris Lushniak presided over the ceremony, reminding students that “commencement” is the beginning of their path to “doing good in a world that needs a lot of good.”
Graduating students cheered the inspirational words of keynote speaker Dr. Leana Wen, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.
She shared three pieces of advice for the graduating students: don’t wait to act; don’t let others tell you what public health can or cannot do; and stand up and speak out. She shared stories of past public health successes and highlighted the danger of the recent state-level restrictions to abortion access and urged the graduates into political as well as public health action. “Be the one that steps up first and says what can I do with the resources I have right now?” she remarked.
Dr. Wen reflected on her work to make naloxone freely available to Baltimore City residents saving nearly 3000 lives. She shared how past public health leaders made strides by disregarding those who told them that public health had no role in setting tobacco, automobile safety or environmental regulations. She urged the graduates to raise their voices as the new faces of public health, “You cannot afford to be invisible because public health depends on you,” she implored. “Stand up and speak out because these are challenging times.”
Dr. Wen also addressed the politicization of health care. “So much of what we stand for is attacked on a political, daily basis,” she said. “Having access to the full range of reproductive health services: birth control, cancer screenings, STI tests, HIV screenings, safe legal abortions, primary care. None of that should be political.” She highlighted stories of legal triumphs against the Trump Administration’s attacks on healthcare access including a successful litigation against an attempt to slash Baltimore’s teen pregnancy prevention program and another successful litigation against an attempt to impose a gag rule on Title X. Dr. Wen spoke on the danger of the recent state-level restrictions to abortion access which deny exceptions for rape and incest, punish healthcare providers and look to criminalize women who suffer miscarriages. She urged the graduates into political as well as public health action. “Our advocacy, our fight is more important now than ever,” she added.
"Dr. Wen reminded us that even as we leave school, we must continue to uphold our school's mission to protect public health,” said Dr. Rianna Teresa Murray who graduated with a doctoral degree in toxicology and environmental health. “Dr. Wen's words and her strong spirit will remain with me as I move into the next chapter of life and into the practice of public health,” she added.
Student speaker Aparna Pooleri, who graduated with a bachelor’s of science degree in public health science and a minor in international development and conflict management, shared a lesson from a sixteen-year-old patient she met during her time as a sophomore hospital intern at a neurorehabilitation ward in South India, “Every small action in helping others makes a world of a difference both to yourself and those around you.“ This lesson was a calling card. “We are well equipped with the knowledge and skills to protect and promote both the health and well-being of all communities and we must commit ourselves to upholding that responsibility,” Aparna added. “With the world in our hands, it’s time to leave our thumbprints."
Among the graduating class were two Fulbright scholars: Paula Escott who graduated with a bachelor's of science degree in public health science and Hillary Craddock who graduated with a doctoral degree in environmental health sciences. Escott will travel to Argentina for a nine month Fulbright fellowship studyinghow telemedicine services can improve access to pediatric healthcare. Craddock will return to Israel for a Fulbright post-doctoral position with the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, where she will advance sustainable water re-use solutions. Craddock worked for a semester on a project that aims to provide Palestinians not connected to municipal water supplies with the technology for in-home water treatment systems that allow them to treat “gray water” from their homes for the purpose of irrigating food to feed their families and to support their livelihood.
Caroline Simon, who graduated with a bachelor's of science degree in public health science, was a finalist for the prestigious University Medal and recognized by President Wallace Loh at the university commencement on May 24.