October 4, 2012 — View a slideshow of more photos from the weekend.
Cold, rainy weather did not dampen the enthusiasm of the roughly 200 Harvard School of Public Health alumni, students, and guests gathered at the School on September 28–29, 2012 for Alumni Weekend — the best turnout ever for the annual event. Alumni celebrating milestone years were honored at a reunion dinner and graduates from across the decades reconnected with former classmates, forged new connections, and learned about new public health research during the weekend’s symposium on women and health.
The Alumni Association honored four exceptional individuals nominated by their peers for this year’s Harvard School of Public Health Alumni Award of Merit — the highest honor presented to an alumna/us. Patricia Hartge, AB ’71, SM ’76, SD ’83, Donald Hopkins, MPH ’70, Swati Piramal, MPH ’92, and Ching-Chuan Yeh, MPH ’81 were recognized for their leadership, community service, contributions, and commitment to the field of public health exemplify the School’s ideals.
Additional alumni awards were presented to Priya Agrawal, MPH ’06 (Emerging Public Health Professional Award), Maura Bluestone, SM ’74 and Francisco Sy, SM ’81 (Leadership in Public Health Practice Awards), and Anita Patil Deshmukh, MPH ’05 (Public Health Innovator Award).
Women and Health Symposium
The weekend also was marked by presentations from high-profile speakers focused on the theme of women and health. Christy Turlington Burns, founder of Every Mother Counts and a member of HSPH’s Board of Dean’s Advisors, kicked off the weekend with a screening of her documentary No Woman, No Cry on Friday, and took questions from the audience. She described how her experience of suffering complications during the delivery of her first child inspired her to document and fight for the lives of mothers who lack her resources.
Saturday’s speakers also touched on the need to put a face to women around the world whose reproductive health struggles — including death during childbirth — are often discounted as simply a “natural” part of life.
Judy Norsigian, AB ’70, executive director and founder, Our Bodies Ourselves, discussed the evolution of her organization’s legendary health manual for women from a pamphlet to a worldwide movement. Today, Our Bodies Ourselves advocates for women’s health on a variety of fronts, from access to family planning services to the health effects of chemicals in the environment.
Norsigian described the organization’s ongoing work to empower women to stay informed about their medical treatment and to not be afraid to question medical authority. “We want to see the evidence before using any new invention or procedure that may cause harm,” she said.
Nicholas D. Kristof, AB ’82, a New York Times columnist, spoke about the systemic inequity and oppression of women and girls throughout the world — the subject of his book Half the Sky. The statistics are grim: The equivalent of five jumbo jets full of women die during child birth every day. Millions are trafficked into sexual slavery. Across the globe, young girls regularly die because they don’t receive the same food, medical care, and attention as boys — adding up to an estimated 60-100 million women who would be alive today but are now “missing,” Kristof said.
Addressing these inequities is “the essential moral challenge of the 21st century,” Kristof said. He proposed a solution that he called “not a silver bullet, but silver buckshot”: educate girls. Girls who are educated are more likely to get married later, have children later, have fewer children, and give their children healthier lives. If they work, they are able to gain respect in the household and make purchasing decisions that improve the lives of their families and communities. Women’s contributions elevate their status in society, leading to their lives becoming recognized as having value, Kristof said.
Kelly Blanchard, AB ’02, SM ’97, president of Ibis Reproductive Health, addressed unplanned pregnancy as a public health issue and outlined current research her organization is conducting to document women’s unmet needs around access to abortion and contraception.
Ana Langer, director of HSPH’s Women and Health Initiative (W&HI), introduced the weekend’s speakers and spoke about the work of W&HI. Its research focuses on the unique health needs of women throughout their lives, with a particular emphasis on addressing the largely preventable deaths of hundreds of thousands of women during pregnancy and childbirth.
The 2012 Alumni Weekend celebrated the six reunion classes with years ending in 2 or 7, ranging from the 10th to the 50th. All of the reunion classes came together Friday for the annual Decennial + 25 Reunion Dinner. The reunion classes raised a combined $141,192 for student scholarships. In addition, every class surpassed their class participation goal; the highest being 30%. Reunion committee members included: (1962) Phyllis Silverman, Paul Torrens, and Helen Reinherz; (1972) Ron Walter; (1982) Julianne Piatek; (1987) Thomas Lee and Robert Mittendorf; (1992) Fair Wang; (2002) Jose Garcia, Mikiko Muraki, and Phillip Woods.
Photos by Kent Dayton and Aubrey La Medica