The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health recognized the Class of 2023, the largest class in the School’s history, during its convocation ceremony on Wednesday, May 24, at the Homewood Field on Johns Hopkins University’s Homewood campus.
The new graduates enter a changed world as the COVID-19 pandemic recedes and other pressing public health issues—gun violence, global warming, substance misuse, mental health, health disparities—dominate headlines and public health agendas.
The Class of 2023 had 1,380 graduates from 59 countries, including the U.S. There were 129 doctoral degrees and 1,256 master’s degrees conferred–five of them joint doctoral-master’s.
In her opening remarks, Ellen J. MacKenzie, PhD, ScM, Dean of the Bloomberg School, advised the Class of 2023 that they will be challenged in their work that lies ahead. “What I want to impress on you today is just how important it will be for you to meet that challenge with knowledge, conviction, and courage,” she said. “Our biggest discoveries? Our boldest ideas? They won’t save lives if we don’t fight for them.”
Dean MacKenzie shared the story of two Bloomberg colleagues who in their work to prevent gun violence persuaded police officers that a court order removing a firearm from a home due to domestic violence was more than “just a piece of paper.” Now 20 states and D.C. have passed Emergency Risk Protection Orders—also known as “red flag” laws”—due in part to these experts encouraging “people to understand that a piece of paper has the power to save lives.”
“You will soon receive a very important piece of paper: a diploma from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health,” Dean MacKenzie continued. “And when you leave here today, more than anything else, I want you to remember this: You are the one who will give that piece of paper its power. You are the one who will use that piece of paper to save lives.”
Keynote speaker Raj Panjabi, MD, MPH, encouraged the students that one way or another their work in public health would turn despair into hope.
Panjabi currently serves on the White House National Security Council as senior director for Global Health Security and Biodefense and special assistant to President Biden. He received an MPH from the Bloomberg School in 2006. Panjabi was born and raised in Monrovia, Liberia. When he was nine years old, his family fled Liberia’s civil war, eventually coming to the U.S. as refugees.
In his remarks to the Class of 2023, Panjabi emphasized the importance of community work in public health. He returned to Liberia during his first winter break as a Bloomberg School MPH student. The war had left Liberia with 50 doctors to serve a country of 4 million people. This return visit to Liberia led to his co-founding The Last Mile, funded in part by fellow Bloomberg School alumni who made donations in lieu of giving gifts at Panjabi’s wedding. The Last Mile relies on community health workers to help those in need.
“Investing in communities is an antidote to the plague of mistrust we face in public health,” Panjabi added. “In the story of public health, communities aren’t the object of change—they’re the agents of change. It’s hard to find a health challenge where a community-based strategy isn’t just relevant, but vital.” He noted the importance of community health workers during the Ebola epidemic in 2013-2014, in the ongoing effort to prevent malaria, and during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’ve seen community health workers help vaccinate the world against COVID, ensuring billions of shots get into arms—from barber shops in Maryland to the forests of West Africa, on mobile vans in Massachusetts, and on rickshaws in India,” he said.
During the convocation ceremony, MacKenzie honored two individuals with the Dean’s Medal, the highest recognition the Bloomberg School confers on public health leaders: Panjabi and Jaume Casals, PhD.
Casals has served as a Professor of Philosophy at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona since 2003. He led the creation of the Johns Hopkins-UPF Public Policy Center, a joint effort by the two universities in advancing solutions for some of the world’s most complex public health challenges such as climate change and pandemics. Under Casals’ guidance, the Center has become a global leader in health and social policy. He received his Doctorate in Philosophy summa cum laude from the Autonomous University of Barcelona in 1984. Previously, he had been Pompeu Fabra University’s rector and was recently elected President of the Board of the University’s School of Management.
Panjabi received an MD from the University of North Carolina in 2007. In his current role at the White House, he works with President Biden and the national security adviser to protect the nation and world from pandemics and other biological threats. Previously, he led President Biden’s Malaria Initiative, which supports 30 countries in Africa and Southeast Asia to combat malaria.
As is a tradition at the Bloomberg School’s convocation, faculty and students recited the International Declaration of Health Rights, which was created by Bloomberg School students, faculty, and alumni in 1991 on the occasion of the School’s 75th anniversary. The Declaration is a commitment “to advocacy and action to promote the health rights of all human beings.”
The Bloomberg School Class of 2023 will join a network of more than 27,000 Bloomberg School alumni in over 160 countries. The Bloomberg School has been ranked #1 by U.S. News & World Report since the rankings began in 1994.
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