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Lessons on Light and Life

Ian Schuster ’23, MPH ’24 reflects on his time in SPH

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A young white man with red curly hair wearing graduate cap and gown smiles to camera
Graduating Student Ian Schuster ’23, MPH ’24 at graduation ceremony take two (Spring, 2024).

The last test for the Class of 2024, or maybe our first, came as the lights went out, hundreds of  soon-to-be graduates in full regalia in a briefly dark XFinity Center, fanning one another with the yellow index cards that were our pass to walk the stage after so much hard work. But the long-awaited moment to, as Dean Lushniak puts it, ‘begin again’ was postponed.

We returned the next day for a second try and I feared that our moment was gone, that the spark might have gone out with the lights. But on our second try, we brought the energy – dancing, leap-frogging and cheering. The spark was in us and the lights did, in fact, come back on. 

If you stand next to Dean Lushniak for long, you’ll hear the message: Public health is a noble profession. As students, we are reminded just how noble through studying epidemiology, health behavior theories,  even the much-feared organic chemistry, in service not of ourselves but of others. A career spent putting this learning ethos into practice makes it so as alumni.  

As a UMD undergraduate and graduate student, and as a graduate assistant with the SPH communications team, I have heard many stories of selflessness and dedication. from the student missing a final to console a bereaved friend, to the professor whose  three decades of research helps children on the other side of the world.

Reflecting on these rigorous, exhausting, invaluable years studying public health, I feel two emotions most strongly. The first is gratitude for the friends, family, faculty and staff who made the journey possible and propelled me forward. 

The second is excitement. I can’t wait to do it all and to do nothing, to see my peers live out their dreams, and to come back in a few years and tell my professors, ‘Hey! We’re doing it!’

In 2021, as I teetered between business or public health, my cousin, who works for the World Food Program, shared a story with me about his friend, a designer for Nike sneakers. Amidst fame and fortune, the designer told my cousin, “At the end of the day, I just make shoes.” 

I carried that vocational parable with me as I chose a community health undergraduate degree and went on to achieve my health policy MPH. I hold it close as I stand on the other side of the stage. 

The Class of 2024 is a story of resilience. Despite canceled high school graduations, an unprecedented shift to online and hybrid settings, existential crises, political strife, and so many other uncertainties, we are steadfast in our pursuit of a better world. 

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