Graduation Speech

Congratulations my fellow Class of 2010!

See below the graduation speech delivered during the ceremony that left me feeling a bit unsatisfied, like I have a child with unfulfilled promise…

Artem Kopelev – Graduation Speech for the Yale School of Public Health

5/24/2010

Good afternoon everyone and let me first say ‘surprise’ to my mom and family. It seems I can do anything because of your infinite love.

I am greatly honored to be able to speak here today, I do not particularly enjoy ceremonies but I do enjoy unique opportunities to say thank you to many people.  With that, on behalf of all of my classmates let me say that you our dearest parents, siblings, family and friends, enable us to do what we want to do. I’m sure we don’t express this enough, but our achievements are truly the extensions of your love and support. Without you along the way a lot of this would lose meaning.

Class of 2010, hello and congratulations, it looks like we’ve completed our masters training. But as all education should be a lifelong journey, we have a lot of work ahead of us. This journey requires that we all ask ourselves: what does public health really mean to me? Apart from finding pictures of infectious diseases exciting and learning how to program in SAS, it is improving the health of the public. It means to act as voices for the interests of people, of everyone around us, to make their lives a little easier, happier, and healthier. It is to speak up for those who are silent and help those who are in their most vulnerable moments in life. It means to research and develop better medicines but also deliver them to every individual who needs them. Our success will be judged by people’s conditions in our local, national and international communities.

We come to public health for many reasons. I came here because I was once entertaining writing a book titled ‘The Health of Nations’, I also entertained developing an online video game called ‘the World of Healthcraft’. I had other similar ideas such as inventing the ‘Healthfire missile’ or perhaps a film titled ‘To Heal a Mockingbird’ where viewers would actually delay the onset of their diabetes or in general gain QualityAdjustedLifeYears by watching it. My other title was ‘She’s gone with the wind, but at least I feel much better’. All of these crazy ideas were reflections of my frustrations at living in a world where human kind has the capacity to decimate thousands of communities in a few minutes, but rarely take the time to nurture and develop one.

I wondered why we don’t bring the same zeal, fervor and courage when we pick up shovels and pens as we do when we pick up our swords and guns. Why do we idealize some things and not others? There is an interesting Russian folk saying that my parents often repeated to me growing up: ‘It is difficult in study, but simple in battle’. It was a quick way for them to keep me focused on school but perhaps that is also why I sometimes like to think of myself as a combatant in the world of academia. A combatant with a pen (a laptop to adjust for modern times); where instead of willingly or unwillingly fighting for any particular nation I now fight for truth, justice and health among all people.

This folk saying also explains why I’m perpetually thankful for being able to pursue the more difficult tasks in my life and not having the more straightforward one of shooting others while not getting shot. We are all enormously privileged with peace, our personal health and one another. I think this social wellbeing is the essence and the meaning of public health, where the health of each and every one of us is the basic building block to all of us living decent lives. While perhaps our paths are much less straightforward than in warfare or in other academic departments, our struggle,our pursuit and our militant devotion to better quality of life and better equity in life is worthwhile.

With that my fellow graduates, I want to remind us few, to be proud of our degrees. We are all now the Marines, of guarding and improving the health of others.  We must continually strive for excellence. As the Yale motto suggests, we should be the seekers, holders and lifelong advocates of light and truth. Exude the greatness that is already within you…where ever you are, and especially in life’s most challenging moments. Now that you are all armed with public health degrees, go forth and fight for health, the fundamental need in all of our lives.

So in summary, I encourage you all to listen to hip hop, watch cartoons, grow your own vegetables and always strive for better health among all people. After all, let’s not forget that ‘it’s tricky to rock a rhyme, to rock a rhyme that’s right on time, it’s tricky’ ta ta ta tricky. And as a side note I promised my most esteemed classmates who encouraged me to write and deliver this speech that I wouldn’t be boring or trite so I hope that was the case.

Thank you all once again,

I’m Artem Kopelev and I’m out.