Alumni Week 2020

Lifting Lives

Public Health Solutions for Vulnerable Populations

Welcome to Alumni Week 2020

Michelle WilliamsDear Harvard Chan Alumni,

The world looks very different now than it did when we gathered so joyfully a year ago. COVID-19 has upended all of our lives. Sadly, we have understood racism as a public health crisis as never before. And even as I write, I am following news of the devastating, climate crisis-driven wildfires in the western United States. Throughout this challenging year, our beloved School has risen to meet multiple crises with compassion, intelligence, and integrity. I could not be prouder of our students, our faculty, or of you. 2020 has given the world irrefutable evidence of the vital importance of our work.

Even though we cannot be together physically, we can be together in spirit. It is my hope that this week’s thoughtful and engaging LIFTING LIVES programming will offer the same feelings of connection, hope, and determination that your time on campus did. One small silver lining this year is the fact that alumni all around the world can take part in our Alumni Week programming.

We will start the week by celebrating our Harvard Chan Alumni Award recipients. Times like these remind us of the power of science and evidence to bring about positive change, and these exceptional individuals have harnessed the power of science to help people live healthier lives, to influence the health care of nations, to fight inequities in health care, and to lead institutions. My thanks go to the members of the Alumni Awards Committee, who volunteered their time to go through large numbers of résumés, personal statements, and letters of support in order to choose which individuals to honor this week.

The theme of this year’s Alumni Week, LIFTING LIVES, focuses on public health solutions for vulnerable populations in the context of COVID-19. This topic – like so much of our work and yours – aligns strongly with our institutional priorities, or frontiers: Conquering Epidemics, Confronting Climate Change, Overcoming Violence, Cultivating Well-being and Nutrition, and Reimagining Aging. We will hear from those on the frontlines of addressing the humanitarian challenges of the pandemic around the world, and we will hear from those working to conquer epidemics through revolutionary new approaches to vaccine science. In addition to these compelling panel discussions, there will be dynamic alumni “lightning talks” that will enable us to hear from even more members of our global alumni community as they face the challenges of the pandemic. I believe that in the current extraordinary period, it is crucial to amplify our collective public health voice, and as a community of public health researchers and professionals, we will continue to do so. This week will give us many opportunities to reflect on how we persevere and how we prioritize. It will also give us the space to pause and assess how public health can evolve to better tackle future pandemics.

So much of what we do would not be possible without the dedicated support of alumni. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Alumni Weekend Committee for their work in helping organize this week’s excellent programming. We would not have been able to pivot from in-person to online without their hard work. I also want to thank Alumni Association President Carmon Davis for her outstanding leadership. Serving in this position is no small commitment.

As we focus on vulnerable populations this week, I want to draw your attention to the new vulnerabilities our students are experiencing in the context of COVID-19. As you know, earning a public health degree from Harvard, is both rewarding and challenging. This year, many of our students are confronting new hardships, from the absence of jobs that might sustain them while they are in school to lack of a safe place to stay or study. As proud alumni of the Harvard Chan School, I hope you will consider supporting today’s students in these unpredictable times.

As always, I look forward to seeing and hearing from you this week as we focus our attention on helping the most vulnerable. Connecting with you and watching you connect with each other is one of the highlights of my year, and I hope it is a highlight of yours as well.


Michelle A. Williams, ScD
Dean of the Faculty, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Angelopoulos Professor in Public Health and International Development,
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Harvard Kennedy School