Al Gore Addresses Columbia Mailman’s Largest Ever Graduating Class

May 22, 2019

In a rousing Commencement address, Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore said that despite the magnitude of the climate crisis and its growing power to jeopardize health, justice, and political stability, humanity has the capacity to seize the opportunity for a better future. “The will to change is itself a renewable resource,” he concluded.


The 2019 Columbia Mailman School Commencement Ceremony took place in the 168th Street Armory, filled with graduating students, their family and friends, faculty, staff, and other well-wishers. Close to 700 students received diplomas, the School’s largest graduating class ever, with the biggest groupings of master’s and doctoral degrees conferred in the School’s 97-year history.

Former Vice President Gore, who shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for sounding the alarm about the threat of global warming, praised the Columbia Mailman School for pioneering research on the associated health risks, such as the harms of air pollution on child development and the conditions experienced by displaced populations.

“The Mailman School is known around the world for its leadership in exploring this connection,” he said. “Dean [Linda P.] Fried and the faculty should feel some pride for paving the way to this growing awareness by other medical experts around the world.”


In 2009, Columbia Mailman launched its Climate and Health Program, the first such program in a public health school in the nation. More recently, the School led the creation of the Global Consortium on Climate and Health Education (GCCHE), whose mandate is to create a global network of all health professions schools in the world to prepare their students to understand and address the health impacts of climate change. GCCHE was named in a 2018 Lancet report as an example of a positive step toward meeting the need to educate healthcare professionals about the health risks of climate change.

Following the Former Vice President’s speech, student speaker Shadin Abdelrahman Awad described experiences she had in her home country of Sudan that inspired her to recognize the importance of cultural humility and critical analysis needed to engage with the intertwined struggles for health and justice. “May we always lead with a critical and curious mind, an open heart, and an unwavering and courageous commitment to actualizing health and justice for all,” she said. Awad was chosen by a committee of students, faculty, and staff.  

faculty and student honors

The Class of 2019 singled out four faculty for teaching awards: Yuna Lee, the Judson Wolfe Excellence in Teaching Award; John Santelli, the Excellence in ISP and Leadership Award; Sharon Schwartz, the Innovation in Teaching Award; and Michael Sparer, the Core Teaching Award.

In student honors, the Bernard Challenor Spirit Prize for “building community, across department boundaries at the Mailman School,” was given to Diana Ballesteros Gonzalez in Sociomedical Sciences, and the Campbell Award for “exceptional leadership and Columbia Spirit,” to Sun-Ming Jessica Pan in Epidemiology. An additional 32 students received awards in 25 categories.

leadership for the future

In opening remarks, Dean Linda P. Fried addressed the record graduating class, recognizing their many diverse talents and opportunities to make a difference.

“You are epidemiologists and ethicists, statisticians and systems-thinkers, program and policy developers, policy leaders, evaluators, environmental health scientists, and health promoters,” she said. “We are relying on you to carry your expertise in public health science, policy, and application into every corner of the world, every community, every village, every workplace, every home, every school, every organization, and every nation. You are the nation’s and the world’s future leaders for the public’s health.”

Watch video of Commencement: