Dr. Castrucci delivered the commencement address for the 2023 graduates of Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health on May 16 (photo by Leslye Smith).

Big thinking. Policy solutions. Unlikely partnerships. These were among the themes our president and CEO, Brian C. Castrucci, DrPH, shared with 2023 public health graduates last week. Dr. Castrucci delivered the commencement address at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health on May 16 and the keynote address at University of Utah Health’s Division of Public Health on May 18.

Dr. Castrucci encouraged new graduates to think big and seek lasting solutions. “As public health practitioners, we can no longer be content just describing disease and proposing prevention strategies,” he said. “We must question those in power. We must actively and deliberately disrupt systems that are set up to benefit the few while harming so many others.” He offered five specific pieces of advice for new graduates:

  1. Seek real solutions. “Band-aids and quick fixes are alluring, but hold true to the vision of public health. At our best, public health practitioners seek to stop the perpetual cycle of sickness and healing and create communities where everyone can be healthy.”
  2. Get involved in policy. “Only policy can fix what policy has broken. If you want to make change, you have to change the rules. If we are to achieve health equity and justice, we must realize that programs and interventions, while necessary, will fall short of undoing decades if not centuries of racist federal, state, and local policies. We all have a role to play, whether it’s generating evidence, elevating communities, developing policies or conducting evaluations.”
  3. Shift public health narratives from vulnerability to resilience. “You have the power to change narratives of victimization and vulnerability to those of strength and achievement. Don’t just talk about vulnerable communities; talk about communities and their strength and how they have resisted and overcome.”
  4. Find common ground and build partnerships. “If we’re going to make real progress, we need to untangle the complex web of social and economic factors that influence health, and no profession can do this alone. You will likely find yourself in some odd relationships and some uncomfortable alliances along the way. If you don’t, then you’re not pushing hard enough for change.”
  5. Think big. “As new graduates, you have endless imagination. You have yet to accept the type of thinking that says, ‘This is how we’ve always done things’ or ‘We tried that before and it didn’t work.’ Fight the temptation to succumb to business as usual, and never stop thinking about what’s possible.”

Dr. Castrucci closed with a challenge to the graduates:

“At this moment of history when the work is frustrating and bullies abound, we cannot shrink. I’m counting on you to force your way to every table. Speak out about public health and help move us forward in ways that I can’t even imagine. I look forward to learning from you and being amazed by what you will accomplish and the world you will build. Take tonight, enjoy yourself. Tomorrow, build the world you want.”

Dr. Castrucci with Robert E. Fullilove, EdD, associate dean for community and minority affairs at Columbia Mailman School of Public Health, May 16 (photo by Leslye Smith)

Katrina Armstrong, MD, chief executive officer of the Columbia University Irving Medical Center; Dr. Castrucci; and Linda P. Fried, MD, MPH, dean of the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health, May 16 (photo by Leslye Smith)

Dr. Castrucci and Steven E. Lacey, PhD, CIH, CSP, FAIHA, chief of the Division of Public Health at University of Utah Health, May 18

Dr. Castrucci with graduates of University of Utah Health’s Division of Public Health, May 18

Dr. Castrucci gave the keynote address to the 2023 graduates of University of Utah Health’s Division of Public Health on May 18.

View the Columbia commencement address:

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