Bagpipes blared as 350 students graduating from the College of Global Public Health’s undergraduate, graduate and doctorate programs filed into The Town Hall in midtown Manhattan on Monday afternoon, bookending their time at NYU with the signature sound first-years are greeted with each fall.
This was only GPH’s third graduation ceremony and the first time graduating doctorate students. Parents stood and waved excitedly, craning their necks and holding up their phones above the sea of heads to snap a photo of their respective graduate. Deputy Provost C. Cybele Raver and President Andrew Hamilton spoke first, praising the GPH Class of 2018’s diversity.
But keynote speaker David Satcher truly stole the show, earning rousing applause before before he even said a single word. Satcher formerly served as the director of the Centers for Disease Control, the Surgeon General during Bill Clinton’s presidency and president of the Morehouse School of Medicine. He is currently the founder and director of the Satcher Health Leadership Institute, which provides programs on sexual health, mental health and more to underserved communities.
Satcher congratulated the graduates and spoke on the importance of the public health work the students have already accomplished and would continue to accomplish in the future.
“The journey is, in fact, long and hard sometimes, but we need you,” Satcher said, referring to the years of medical training the students must undergo to be certified in the field.
He said it takes a certain kind of person to dedicate themselves to public health and he advocates for more emphasis on mental health. Satcher highlighted a new program for New York public schools that will require mental health to be taught in elementary, middle and high schools.
“I hope that you, as you go on with your day, you see how critical mental health is as a part of public health,” Satcher said.
The end of Satcher’s compelling speech was met with a standing ovation from the entire audience. Afterward, student speaker McKenzie Pickett — who the audience also greeted with overwhelming applause before she even began her speech — spoke to her class about the context surrounding their four years at the university.
“Just think, when we began at NYU, a man named Barack Obama was president, and Blue Ivy wasn’t sharing her inheritance,” Pickett said, earning laughter from the crowd. “But a lot of good things have happened, too. Women finally felt empowered enough to break their silence, start a movement and stand up to sexual harassment and violence. Students across this country teamed up to stand up against the epidemic of gun violence in the U.S. And we finally discovered the utopian land of Wakanda.”
Pickett acknowledged the anxiety graduates may face given the current state of the world and their upcoming task of tending to public health during this time — but she said it’s what they signed up for.
“Undergraduates, graduates and our first graduating Ph.D. cohort, did we not make a conscientious decision to stand up in the face of inequality and inequity when we chose to study public health?” Pickett said.
Awards were given out to four students who showed excellence in areas such as research and public service. The audience viewed a video of graduates reflecting on their four years and global impact before degrees were handed out, with each student receiving ecstatic applause from their loved ones.
Following the very last of the students to receive their degrees, families met outside to celebrate.
Email Natasha Roy at [email protected]