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Public Health graduates celebrate 2024 commencement

2024 marked the 79th commencement ceremony for the School of Public Health

Dean Michael C. Lu and Commencement Speaker Gerald Chan with Oski.

Dean Michael C. Lu and Commencement Speaker Gerald Chan with Cal mascot Oski the Bear at the 2024 reception for new graduates.

UC Berkeley School of Public Health celebrated the class of 2024—the 79th class in its illustrious history—at UC Berkeley’s Greek Theatre on May 13, 2024.

This year, 605 students—38 doctoral students, 345 masters students, and 222 undergrads—received diplomas. This remarkable group of public health changemakers graduated after a year that was marked by protests but also by personal triumph and growth. The undergraduate students graduated from high school in 2020, when the country was in the throes of the initial COVID-19 lockdown. Most of them were unable to celebrate their secondary school commencements, so the day was extra special for them and their loved ones.

The theme of community came up repeatedly during the ceremony. Undergraduate orator Raksha Rajeshmohan spoke of how concern, kindness, and love were at the center of her public health experience. “We look out for each other, even when we are on opposite sides of the globe. Amidst all the chaos that is Berkeley, we were given a safe space to grow within this department,” she said.

Dean Michael C. Lu echoed Rajeshmohan’s sentiment in his commencement remarks.

“We are your community—a community of public health  innovators, changemakers, and arc-benders, fighting the good fight every day to help bend the arc of the moral universe toward health equity and social justice,” Lu told the graduating class. “And wherever you go, I hope you’ll find a community like this one. People who will cheer you on just like we always will,  and people who believe that you can and will change the world just like we always do.”

Another tightly held value at the school is that of embracing our power to make change. Indeed, commencement speaker and scientist, biotech company founder, and venture capitalist Gerald Chan, SM, MS, ScD, urged the students to embrace innovation.

“Innovation is a mindset, it is a mental habit, it is an intolerance for poor outcomes, it is an eye to see deficiencies as a prelude to something better, it is taking risk to challenge the status quo, it is thinking the unthinkable to create alternatives,” Chan said from the stage of the Greek. “ In each of our own ways, we can be a change agent that makes things better for our fellow man, for our institutions, and for our communities.” (Read Chan’s full keynote here.)

Graduate orator Dr Sai Ramya Maddali had a philosophical perspective on the intertwining of compassion and public health.

She called on the graduates to invest in their compassion, courage, and empathy. “Because that is what our world needs. That is what our field needs. COVID-19 was and is a public health issue. The fentanyl crisis is a public health issue. Mass incarceration is a public health issue. Racism is a public health issue. War is a public health issue. Genocide is a public health issue,” she told the graduates. “We can only address them when we bring our whole selves, with our knowledge, courage, and grief. So Berkeley friends, give your soul space to feel and take it all in. And let’s move our field forward with radical compassion and courage.”

“Your generation must set the world on a different path,” Dean Lu called upon the graduates. “Leaving behind, in the words of Ms. [Arundhati] Roy, ‘the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies… Ready to imagine another world, and ready to fight for it.’”

Each year, one faculty member, one alum, and two students receive awards from the UC Berkeley Public Health community for their achievements. This year, Dr. Sandra McCoy received the Zak Sabry Mentorship Award; Terry Bayer, JD, MPH ’75, received the Alum of the Year Award; Joel Rubio, MPH ’24, received the Henrik Blum Award for Distinguished Social Action; and Abraham Soto, MPH ’24, received the Sheldon Margen Award, given to a graduating student who best exemplifies a voracious curiosity and ability to draw upon multiple disciplines to address the health problems of society’s most vulnerable.

Congratulations to our 2024 graduating class. Be the change you want to see in the world and Go Bears!