The pride and excitement were unmistakable as the students of just the second graduating class of the NYU College of Global Public Health proceeded into their seats at the Town Hall Monday. The building, originally constructed in 1921, was opened by the famed suffragette organization League of Public Education and was built so that, as nearly all of the day’s speakers pointed out, there was “no bad seat in the house.” No box seats exist, so there are no obstructed views — a symbolic commitment to treat every audience member equally, regardless of status or rank.
CGPH’s ceremony was one of sentiment and justice. The day’s address was given by CEO of McKinsey Social Initiative, former CEO and president of CARE USA and former director of the HIV, TB and Reproductive Health Program at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Dr. Helene Gayle. She expressed her excitement for the CGPH program itself, saying it is well-fit for the complex global system that represents public health today, particularly in the fraught political and social situations the world is experiencing.
“With all the challenges rolling around, sometimes it might seem easier to adopt a bunker mentality — to just wait until someone else fixes it and then stick your necks out again,” Gayle said. “But obviously that is not the choice you [graduates] have taken. You have already taken an affirmative step towards action because you have chosen a career in public health.”
Undergraduate student speaker Natasha Puri highlighted the parallels between the Town Hall’s history, particularly the arrest of reproductive rights activist Margaret Sanger in 1921 during her speech to a mixed-gender audience advocating for contraception. Puri pointed out that Sanger’s fight for health rights was as vital and real as the work that CGPH students are doing themselves.
“As Global Public Health students, our major is much more than a field of academia,” Puri said. “It’s the real world. It’s the foundation of one’s life, one’s well-being. Global Public Health is about discovery, innovation, never accepting the norm.”
Graduate student speaker Nodar Kipshidze discussed the themes of person, place and time — themes repeated endlessly throughout the studies of the CGPH students, and part of the clinical definition of one’s ability to orient themselves in the world. He offered hope that through those themes and repeated failures, he and his classmates would be able to orient themselves within their chosen paths and hardships.
“The only challenges worth accepting are the ones that will undoubtedly lead to failure,” Kipshidze said. “I think our rhetoric is so often touted with the rhetoric of success — and yet to have truly learned something, one has to have failed at some point.”
The college also presented several awards during its ceremony. The Public Health Research Award was given to undergraduates Jenna Reich and Amanda Sale and graduate Alastair Bitsoi — Bitsoi was also recently awarded the CGPH Service and Leadership Award for significant contributions to public health at NYU. The Public Health Research Award was given to undergraduate William Christopher Goedel and graduate Paul Brown. Undergraduate Carolyn Fan and graduates Liza Martinez and MIrtala Sanchez received the Public Health Social Justice Award. Kirstin Darr received the Outstanding Bioethics Graduate Student Award, and Dr. Emily Goldmann received the Faculty Excellence in Public Health Award.
With bright smiles and deafening cheers from their loved ones in the stands, the graduates then collected their degrees and spilled out into the streets outside Town Hall to commence their own journeys to defend and uphold public health.
Email Hailey Nuthals at [email protected]