May 28, 2020
Good afternoon everyone. Greetings to Dean Williams, faculty, staff, and alumni, and to the Class of 2020: Congratulations!
Congratulations to our parents, friends, and loved ones, without whom today would not be as special as it is a day, we have all earned and should cherish together.
Let me ask you a question: How many of you when you were little, and you were asked “what you wanted to do?” said “public health professional!”? Me neither. Yet, we end up here.
I would never forget the first day of orientation at this school. I ate my lunch in the bathroom stall with my feet on the toilet seat, so no one would know that I was there. Back then, I was so afraid of everything – above all, the coffee breaks. I was SO nervous about having to do small talk. I didn’t know what to say, I was afraid of saying something wrong, I was afraid of being seen “different.” Even by just wearing a hijab I already made my identity clear without even need to tell anyone what I believe in. I had seen a lot of news around Islamophobia and it concerned me.
However, it was just my second week at school when my perception began to change. I found a praying room downstairs. Surprisingly, Harvard provides us with a very convenient praying room equipped with all things we need for praying. What made it even more special, it was my Jewish friend who showed me the room because he saw me praying under the emergency stairs.
Equality, inclusivity, unity – I cannot think of any better place I can learn it all but here. Little by little, Harvard Chan and all people inside has become my new home—10,000 miles away from my original one. Albeit slowly, I came back to be a confident person my mom has raised me to be.
Mama has always been the one who inspires me. She’s the youngest of 11 siblings, born and raised by farmers in a rural Sumatran island in Indonesia. Farmers’ kids didn’t go to school those days. Her sisters and brothers worked very hard to get Mama to college and she didn’t take it for granted. When I was a kid, Mama taught me an important lesson in life: “Dream high, because our only limit is our mind.” That is what keeps her going through the tough times. Despite being underprivileged, Mama has raised three children who all completed master’s degrees.
The value that Mama taught me keeps echoing all my life. She has raised me from a student in a small town in Indonesia to a graduate from the best public health school in the world. However, I will not stop here. Today is only the beginning of our bigger journey. And I encourage you all to promise that we will not stop ourselves to leap higher, contribute more, and make an impact to the world through public health.
Public health provides us with the privilege to save the lives of millions and improve the health and longevity of generations and generations to come. It’s only through public health that we can see now the entire countries have been forgetting their differences and pooling their resources. Beneath the gloomy dramatic coronavirus headlines, there are countless tales of collaboration and dedication. At this time of crisis, we realize that no matter how privileged we are or no matter where we come from, we are exposed to the same risks that only through helping each other, we will survive. For a moment, people are united through public health efforts despite the difference in ethnicity, nationality, or spirituality.
My sisters and brothers, you have chosen to be here today because you are called to serve, to dignify the lives of people you’ve never even met, or you may never ever meet.
So, let me change the question: How many of you, now that you finished Harvard, will proudly say “I’m glad to be a public health professional!”?
Class of 2020, welcome to the often exciting, sometimes exhausting, rarely appreciated, but always important world of Public Health! Thank you.