Class of 2021 Celebrates Commencement at Crucial Moment for Public Health

April 29, 2021

The Columbia Mailman School of Public Health celebrated Commencement today, as more than 700 members of the Class of 2021 came together in a virtual ceremony, joined by faculty, staff, family, and friends around the world. Graduates began their studies in person before continuing online when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, and are now earning degrees at a time when public health expertise is needed more than ever before. (Watch video of the ceremony below.)

“You are graduating at a moment in history when the world desperately needs your expertise, your training, your passion, and your leadership,” said Dean Linda P. Fried, in opening remarks from Hess Commons, in the Allan Rosenfield Building. “The past year has proven to the entire world the vital importance of public health as a foundation for thriving communities and healthy people, and a key strategic partner for medical care, government, and business.”

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, United States representative to the United Nations, was the 2021 Columbia Mailman School Commencement speaker and recipient of the School’s Visionary Leadership Award.

The ceremony began with a virtual live procession of graduates in Columbia blue cap and gown, followed by commencement speeches, the announcement of awards, a recitation of the Public Health Oath, and the conferral of masters and doctoral degrees. Separately, a Lavender Ceremony and Students of Color Celebration recognized the accomplishments of LGBTQIA+ and graduates of color, respectively. In addition, academic departments organized their own events for graduates. The larger Columbia University community will celebrate commencement together tomorrow.  

In her address, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield drew parallels between public health work and diplomacy, noting both combine a global outlook with a “solemn responsibility of representing the wider public, especially the most vulnerable.” She concluded: “By identifying shared solutions, meeting people where they are, and most importantly, speaking up for those who aren’t in the room, you can save lives.”


Dave A. Chokshi, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and Anil Rustgi, Columbia University Interim Executive Vice President and Dean of the Faculties of Health Sciences and Medicine, each added their own congratulatory remarks.

Vice Dean for Education Michael Joseph announced teaching awards for Lisa Bates, Andrea Flynn, Samantha Garbers-Adams, and Christine Mauro, and congratulated Jasmine McDonald, recipient of the 2021 Columbia University Presidential Award for Outstanding Teaching. Dean Joseph also celebrated student achievements, including those recognized with awards for excellence in scholarship and service. He singled out the contributions of volunteers in the COVID-19 Student Services Corp, and members of the FORWARD (Fighting Oppression, Racism, and White Supremacy through Action, Research, and Discourse), an initiative shaped by members of the Black & Latinx Student Caucus.

Annette Wu, MPH ’08, Alumni Board President, welcomed students to the alumni community, encouraging them to stay connected. Acknowledging the challenges of a virtual commencement necessitated by the pandemic, she said, “While this is a disappointment for many of us, you will find comfort in realizing that you are part of the Mailman family now. You will always wear your Columbia Mailman cap and gown, symbolically, every day, from now on.”

In remarks on behalf of the Class of 2021, George Timmins, an MPH graduate in Sociomedical Sciences, recognized the occasionally painful moments of being a student during the pandemic and a period of heightened systemic injustices. Speaking of these experiences, Timmins encouraged his classmates to “wear them as our badge of surviving and still succeeding,” praising their hard work across the wide spectrum of public health work and urging them to continue to fight for a better world.

Timmins concluded: “Have a lovely day today, and see you on the global stage for health equity and social justice again tomorrow.”


Watch the Commencement video: