A mass of graduates wearing Columbia blue

Class Day Celebrates 2024 Graduates

May 15, 2024

More than 750 graduating students celebrated Class Day on May 14 joined by faculty, friends, and family members. Master’s and doctoral graduates come from 40 countries and 45 U.S. states and territories.

In opening remarks at the Armory, Dean Linda P. Fried paid tribute to graduates’ academic achievements and leadership potential while acknowledging the turmoil of recent months marked by violent conflict and political strife, saying, “The pain has been deep for many and has affected us all.” In the face of these circumstances and other daunting challenges to public health, she told graduates, “The world desperately needs your expertise, your training, your passion, your commitment, and your leadership.” She continued, saying, “You have the capacity to create knowledge, build solutions from the evidence, meet these challenges, and the courage to lead.”

Dean Linda P. Fried

Speaking next, Dean Katrina Armstrong, CEO of Columbia University Irving Medical Centers, said, “Even as we recognize the extraordinary challenges and all the work that we have to do, I believe that these challenges are deeply reaffirming of the fundamental truths that underlie your education, your field, what you have chosen to do.” Among these are: “the truth that every life is infinitely valuable, that all lives matter and are equal, the truth that health is a universal public good and must be available to all… and health depends on the social and economic conditions of people’s lives.”

A smiling woman wearing academic regalia

Monica Bertagnolli

In remarks as the 2024 Class Day speaker, Monica Bertagnolli, director of the National Institutes of Health and recipient of the Columbia Mailman Visionary Leadership Award, detailed the extraordinary progress achieved by medical science in developing treatments for hemophilia and HIV. Yet access to treatment for many conditions remains a problem. “Therapies that work can’t be considered effective if they aren’t accessible to people who need them,” Bertagnolli said, adding that society is “at the cusp of being able to cure deadly and debilitating diseases but still struggling with ways to ensure that our life-changing advances are available to all who need them.” Closing this gap requires a commitment to addressing all determinants of health, she said, concluding, “You are the new generation to take on the challenge of caring for everyone, with the well-being of all of society as your highest priority, and I have great confidence in you.”

The 2024 Class Speaker, Saham David Ahmed Ali exhorted her fellow graduates, “In the field of public health, hope is not merely a fleeting emotion—it’s a steadfast commitment to building a brighter future for all, a cause to champion for. ... Allow your hopes to continue to lead you to achieve everlasting change in the name of public health, change that is grounded in the fight for a better world and nothing less.”

Kyle MacDonald, MPH ’19, president of the Columbia Mailman Alumni Board, congratulated graduates and welcomed them to the alumni community, which has 18,000 members. MacDonald, who is the Chief Science & Program Officer at the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, encouraged graduates to maintain ties with the School and with their classmates throughout their careers as public health professionals, saying, “The people sitting beside you today aren’t just classmates, they’re friends, colleagues, thought-partners, scientists, advocates, and changemakers. You’ve weathered academic storms together, celebrated breakthroughs together, and learned from each other's diverse backgrounds. That, my friends, is the foundation for a powerful community. … Go forth, change the world, and never forget the power of the community you've built here and the ones you will continue to build.”

A crowd of graduates wearing academic regalia celebrate

Michael Joseph, Vice Dean for Education, presented four teaching awards: the Judson Wolfe Excellence in Teaching Award, to John Winkleman; the Core Teaching Award, to Kavita Sivaramakrishnan; the Excellence in ISP and Leadership Award, to Helen de Pinho; and the Innovation in Teaching Award, to Todd Ogden. Earlier in the day, awards were presented to nearly 50 students, in recognition of their excellence in scholarship and service.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, everyone recited the Public Health Oath, which begins with the statement, “Health is a human right.”

Photos by Leslye Smith.