Activist, journalist, public health champions: Meet our graduation speakers

Dear Members of the Harvard Chan School Community,

It is my great pleasure to announce the Harvard Chan School speakers for the upcoming ceremonies honoring three classes of our graduates. South African activist Dr. Mamphela Ramphele will serve as the Class of 2022 speaker on May 25, and CBS News medical correspondent Dr. Jonathan LaPook will address the Classes of 2020 and 2021 on May 28.

Dr. Mamphela Ramphele has had a long and celebrated career as a medical doctor, academic, businesswoman, and political thought leader. She first became involved in the South African Students Association (SASO) while studying for a medical degree at the University of Natal and was a founder, with Steve Biko, of the Black Consciousness Movement. Dr. Ramphele was appointed vice chancellor of the University of Cape Town, and in 2000 she became a managing director of the World Bank in Washington, DC. She was a founding trustee of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, a founder of the Open Society Foundation for South Africa and the Citizens Movement, and currently serves as chair of the Desmond Tutu IP Trust. Dr. Ramphele is co-president of The Club of Rome, a global coalition that promotes holistic solutions to planetary threats, with a strong focus on addressing climate change and building a more sustainable and equitable future by reimagining global social, environmental, and economic systems. She’s also a co-founder of ReimagineSA, which works to catalyze systemic change across multiple domains that intersect with public health, including emotional well-being and youth empowerment. Reflecting on her own remarkable career, Dr. Ramphele once said, “The double jeopardy of being black and female in a racist and sexist society may well make one less afraid of the sanctions against success.”

Dr. Jonathan LaPook’s career sits at the intersection of medicine, media, and public health. He has served as the chief medical correspondent for CBS News since 2006, practices internal medicine and gastroenterology at NYU Langone Health, and is the Mebane Professor of Gastroenterology at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine. His 2012 segment on the national drug shortage earned him one of his four Emmy Awards, and in 2015 he received a New York Press Club Award for Journalism for the WCBS-AM News Team Special “Eye on Ebola.” As a physician and broadcast journalist, he has worked since the beginning of the pandemic to keep the public, as well as his own patients, informed about how to try to stay safe. In 2014, he founded The Empathy Project, which produces short films and other educational materials to teach clinicians to be more effective in communicating with and treating their patients. As he told Stephen Colbert on “The Late Show” in August 2021, “The people that you are going to get through to, it’s going to be through empathy. Don’t start off by talking, start off by listening.”
I am thrilled that we plan to gather in person to celebrate this year’s graduating class and to give a proper sendoff to the two classes preceding. As always, the health and safety of our community is paramount, and we will be communicating with you throughout the spring as we closely monitor COVID trends and adjust our plans accordingly. In the meantime, I invite you all to visit the School’s Graduation page for regular updates as we finalize details of both ceremonies.

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