Garett Ng: Choose your own adventure

Good afternoon my fellow graduates.

When I think of the past two years here at the School of Public Health, I can’t help but think how we all got here is sort of like being in a Choose Your Own Adventure book. Remember those books? They’re great.

But seriously. Life’s like a Choose Your Own Adventure book. Or as Professor Paltiel would say, a decision tree. All of us here have had a wide variety of experiences that has brought us all together at this point. Some of us have come internationally to study here. Some have worked in a variety of labs and non-profit organizations. Some came straight here from undergraduate studies or even down the street. Wherever you came from, there is one thing that links us all. You selected that option to come here and turned to that page.

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My story is similar to yours. On one weekend, I was coming home from lunch and found the big Yale envelope in my mailbox. After saying a series of “colorful” metaphors, I tore open the package ready to scream and go delirious from being one step closer to joining the Skulls and Bones when… I found out that I had someone else’s admission letter. My journey to Yale started by making a phone call not to all my friends and family that I’m going to Yale, but to the Admissions office and asking why I got Derek Ng’s letter and not mine.

And so for the past few years, while many of you may have gone through what’s known as the “imposter syndrome” and wondering if you really belonged here, think about me. I REALLY wasn’t sure if I belonged here. But like all of you, I stayed resilient and decided to seize the opportunity here.

What an opportunity it has been. It has flown by. I remember during our orientation when Dean Cleary gave a prediction about how we all came here with a specific goal and vision in mind with our studies. And how we would all leave more confused now that our eyes have been open to greater possibilities out there. It’s true, don’t you think? I no longer want to join the Skulls and Bones.

During my spring break, a friend asked me, “Was it worth it Garett?” – it being the two years here.

So, was it worth it? I have wondered that over the past few weeks especially as things started to wind down and I thought about all of the memories and experiences I’ve had during the past two years:

* Like coming back in the fall and hearing some of the extraordinary internship experiences that you had – from developing a fortified nutritional program in India, addressing nutritional policy and issues with the Rudd Center, to working in Africa in developing child services.
* Or sitting in a SAS lab and watching as a classmate got stressed out over coding, only to mitigate that stress by going on Facebook. And then, for me, coming up with a topic for my SBS intervention paper – internet addiction among graduate students.
* Or watching my teammate get tripped by the first baseman and fall to the ground in softball. Then seeing a whole posse of first year medical students eagerly applying their knowledge of diagnosis and triage a whole 5 feet away from my fallen teammate. And then watching as a public health student push through the med students to triage the teammate directly and take him to the hospital. This is public health right there! Taking action!

But going back to this main research question, was it worth it? I decided to do what any good public health student would do and that is to cook up a model in SAS. I apologize if this makes you cringe, but indulge me for a moment. I’ve always wanted to be an epidemiologist, and this is my one shot especially given my iffy grade in Dr. Dubrow’s class. And by the way, for the record, I just wanted to let you know that I used SAS version 9.1.3 for this. Please be sure to record this in the methodology section. So proc this.

First, my outcome variable is happiness during my time here. Since this is a binary variable, I used proc logistics. I made this model a function of a couple of very important variables. First, was the degree of self-reported stress exhibited during Mark Schlessinger’s first policy group project. Self explanatory. Second, the number of times I actually said ‘no’ to paper during sustainability week. Third, and most important, was the number of hours spent at 47 College doing SAS.

Obviously, my model is quite robust and contains many other variables, but I don’t want to bore you with the rest of the details. Let’s just say I came up with some really statistically significant findings. And there’s no issue of heteroskedasticity.

But more importantly, there are a wide variety of things I’ve learned from this analysis.

First, and I don’t think we do enough of this, enjoy this moment right now. Take a moment and look around this room. We are all fortunate to be here. You have heard the statistics before. 1/3 of the world population lives on less than a dollar a day. Only 30% of Americans even have a college degree. With people throughout the world with so much less means than we do, I hope you never forget – being here has been a privilege for us. I encourage you all to remember that and carry that with you no matter what path you go to.

Second, it’s a small public health world out there, yet the potential is huge to work together across disciplines. There are obviously a lot of issues out there in health care and it’s not going to be one area like epidemiology or another area like health management that will solve the problems. We need to work together and come up with a new way of doing things. We need to be innovative.

Finally, have fun and be passionate in whatever course you take. Life is too short to be unhappy. Smile. Joke. Be with the people that make you smile. Do the things that you love.

So let’s go back to where we stand today. We’re about to Choose Our Next Adventure. I joked with a recruiter how I picked the best economic time to leave school given all that we hear on a day to day basis on the news. But as I look around now, I know it is the best time to return to the field. Some of you all are already heading towards that next step. I mean, can you believe it? Working at the National Institute of Health. Leading the New York Department of Health. Getting a PhD. Informing policy decisions in the government. This is a fantastic start, but let us not forget that the work will not stop there.

We need good people like us to go out there and shed a light on the disparities that no one speaks about. We need good people to be courageous and take a stand that inequalities and suffering that still exist is not okay and that it needs to be fixed. We need good people to inspire others to make positive changes to health care. Which one of us will make the next, big discovery to revolutionize health care? Who will be the epidemiologist that launches that next great longitudinal study? Who in this class will win a Nobel prize for their new theory on environmental justice?

When Dr. Winslow chaired the School of Public Health, he led and guided healthcare reform in Connecticut. He positively impacted millions of people through his work. To my fellow graduates, I dare you to do better. Why not be the greatest class in public health history? Why not us? We have the capability to do it. It’s within our reach. This is the challenge that I offer you today. And I know we will rise up to meet it.

Thank you.


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