Photo: J.D. Levine

Graduation then and now

In 1914, the Harvard MIT School for Health Officers—now HSPH—awarded its first certificates to five physicians (all men) enrolled in the new public health program. The scene could not have been more different from last week’s graduation ceremony, when 558 students from all over the world—56% of them women—received HSPH degrees ranging from masters to doctorates.

That said, there are striking similarities between the public health world that was and the one that is. Dean Julio Frenk touched on some of these in his commencement remarks:

“You are graduating in 2013, on the cusp of our Centennial year.

What is now Harvard School of Public Health opened its doors in September 1913, collaborating with MIT to launch the School for Health Officers. It was a time of exciting transformation in public health, with new discoveries relating to sanitation, bacteriology, and the emergence of the new field of scientific epidemiology, and the young school of public health was at the center of it all.

A century later we find ourselves in another time of rapid transformation.

Global travel, technology, and globalized markets have all contributed to creating a world with unprecedented levels of interconnection and interdependence. A disease that starts in Asia or Europe can travel to Africa or the U.S. in a matter of hours.

With the globalization of fast food, smoking, and urban pollution, we are seeing soaring rates of chronic conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and certain cancers.

Health care is increasingly costly—and unevenly distributed. While the wealthiest among us are living longer and better than ever before, the poorest lack the most basic care—and often die as a result.

Health care systems are also more complex than ever before, and the need for outstanding public health leaders to run them effectively has never been so great.”

You can read the Dean’s complete remarks on our website.

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Is there an event, person, or discovery in Harvard School of Public Health history that you’d like to read about? Send your suggestions to Centennial@hsph.harvard.edu.

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