Yuna Lee: The world is your oyster

Our MPH class of 2009 may be remembered fondly as an outlier in the history of the Yale School of Public Health. An unusually small class, we arrived in New Haven at a time when Health exploded into every discussion on Yale campus, and amazing things were coming out of our school, as the world looked to our professors for guidance. Our discussions and papers were real time commentaries on momentous world events. We returned from our summer internships to see a world somewhat turned upside down, but then got pulled in as Health emerged as a key to reform. We rallied together during a financial crisis, the election of an epic new Administration, an outbreak of a pandemic. This is all for 75 different individuals who were probably more used to be the diligent hard workers in the background, the public health puppeteers of health system design or the troopers in the field not used to the limelight.

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So, friends, it’s been two years since we all first gathered here in this town from every corner of the globe and walk of life. We came from 22 states and 15 countries including Singapore, Uganda, Brazil and Nigeria. Two years ago, I arrived at Yale from the most isolated city in Australia. I was alone, I didn’t know anyone. What a difference two years can make. In this school, I found a home and a community, a place which has given me the confidence to become a person I didn’t even know I had the capacity to become. The people of YSPH and the classmates I am so proud to call my friends and colleagues have shaped me, guided me and transformed me both personally and professionally into someone who is truly excited about meaningfully contributing to this field.

I know that my story is not unique. We all came in proudly defending our own views and ways of thinking, only to see them stretch and open as we talked to each other, sometimes over a beer, sometimes in a study room for 7 hours, sometimes dressing up for a Formal. Those classmates that terrified you with their impressive icebreakers are now your friends for life. Together, we had this unique experience that can never be replicated or forgotten.

You had a once in a lifetime opportunity to have two years for yourself – to explore, to play, to broaden your minds, to learn from each other. Yale was ready to help you, if you sought it out. We had the chance to step outside of ourselves, try new things on for size, walk around in other people’s shoes. You could find us piping up in classes as diverse as forestry, architecture or management; in New York boardrooms or in the trenches handing out tooth brushes, and the next day, switching roles elegantly. The years flew by and we had fun and loved our time here. This school in turn has been shaped by you and your unique contribution.

Inside and outside the classroom, we’ve seen and learned about the world in its highest performing creativity and its depths of suffering. But just learning isn’t enough, and even just wanting to help isn’t enough. Over these two years we’ve grown bows and arrows, wings on our back, all sorts of toolkits that are actually helpful – and each of us with our unique specialization is ready to be let loose again onto the real world to make some positive changes.

The nature of the challenges we face when we leave these gates are real and daunting. I believe that the mark of a civilized society is how it treats its citizens at their most vulnerable. As public health professionals, we are at the forefront of ensuring our citizens globally have a chance to live their life optimally, with health and happiness. It is an incredible privilege to do what we do. Yet, it will not be easy. There will be times when this field sucks you up and spits you out. But, I know that when that happens, you will jump back up, dust yourself off, and jump right back in again. And there’ll be 75 of us here, all around the world, cheering you on as you do it.

How special is it that today, we are graced by Dr Paul Farmer, a person who’s efforts and compassion guided many of us to this field and thus to Yale. We are all also graced by our families and friends, and the well wishes of a School which has cheered us on for these two transformative years. It’s a unique kind of blessing indeed.

And with that, I wish you all a grand new adventure for this next phase of life. The world is your oyster – we’ll catch you on the flip side.

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