Commencement 2012: Kevin Koo’s Address

May 24, 2012 — Dean Frenk, Dr. Chan, distinguished guests, faculty and alumni, parents, families, and fellow graduates:

Greetings and good afternoon. It’s my honor to represent the Class of 2012. Today we gather here in the familiar Kresge courtyard, where we’ve shared lunches, class discussions, and one memorable fire alarm on the coldest day of January. Look around, and you’ll see that we sit at the literal and philosophical intersection of education, research, and practice.

Behind us, the Kresge building, the theoretical foundations of our knowledge, our veritas; in front of us, the Countway library, the house of scholarship; on one side of us, the medical campus and the hospitals, our partners in protecting and improving the health of the public; and on the other side, the community, reminding us of our commitment to public service.

It’s no accident or surprise that we meet in this space today because our time at the Harvard School of Public Health has not been exclusive to any one of these domains; rather this space is the union, indeed the nexus of them all.

Today is a time for introspection. Like many of you, I’ve spent a lot of time in the past few weeks reflecting on what this experience has been, and what it will become.

Reflection offers us insight and meaning; it lends us courage; it inspires us to action. I would characterize the time we’ve all spent here as a journey in introspection and inspection, with health at the core. We each arrived with our own lenses on health; I, as a future physician, with one foot in the clinic and the other in the community; some of us as aspiring policymakers or community advocates, improving health by strengthening health care; and others, as researchers or investigators, in pursuit of knowledge that illuminates the path to a healthier tomorrow.

Today, we leave this school having examined health from a diverse array of new, sometimes unfamiliar perspectives. And tomorrow we turn to our work with the awareness that public health is derived not from a singular definition, but from meanings as vast and varied as the people for whom health matters, the citizens of the world.

But today is also a time to think beyond the boundaries of this school. We may belong to different programs and departments, and we may have entered with different aspirations, but I know that all of us have probably shared the experience of riding the M2—that purple and white shuttle that connects our campus with the rest of the university.

And there’s a reason I’ve seen so many of you on the M2 with me: leadership in public health demands a multidisciplinary approach. And there’s something about this spirit that’s embodied in our M2 shuttle, which connects people, bridges ideas, and brings our collective purpose to bear on the most challenging, important issues of our time.

And as the world looks to us for solutions, I know we’ll see those 22-minute journeys to the law school, the business school, the school of government, and beyond as capturing the essence of how public health is embedded in the narrative of our communities and in the future of our world.

So then how do we, as individuals, as public-health leaders and professionals and leaders, and as a class, achieve the meaning of our Commencement?

Today, surrounded by those who have taught you, mentored you, challenged and inspired you, instilled in you values and traditions, look inward to your passion and to the themes of public health that have defined your time here. And look outward to the aspirations that grounded this education and to the great social complexities that await your dedicated attention.

Then tomorrow, I hope that each of us, having reflected on what drives us from within the inside and examined what may lie ahead, will face the new day with confidence, with conviction, and with compassion.

Class of 2012, let us embark on the journey for which these surroundings have prepared us.

Ignited by our passion and guided by our purpose, let the journey begin.