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Class of 2021: 908 Students Graduate From Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

Published

Kizzmekia S. Corbett, co-lead of the NIH team that developed the Moderna mRNA vaccine, joined Bloomberg School Dean Ellen J. MacKenzie, student and faculty speakers, and others in prerecorded ceremony

The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health recognized the Class of 2021 in a pre-recorded Convocation broadcast yesterday afternoon. The ceremony comes at a moment that highlights the power of public health as well as its challenges, as vaccines developed in record time begin to bring the COVID-19 pandemic under control in the U.S. and other countries. At the same time, the pandemic continues to rage in many regions, including India and Nepal and South America. In addition to a historic reckoning over racism in the past year, the pandemic has called attention to systemic health inequities.

The Bloomberg School Class of 2021 includes 908 graduates representing 62 countries.

Of these, 103 earned doctoral degrees and 805 master’s, including 281 Master of Public Health degrees. Of the 103 doctoral degrees conferred, 81 were PhD’s, 2 were ScD’s, and 20 were DrPH’s. The Class of 2021 included 254 international students.

Keynote speaker Kizzmekia S. Corbett, PhD, the viral immunologist at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Vaccine Research Center who co-led the National Institutes of Health team that helped develop the Moderna mRNA COVID-19 vaccine, urged the new graduates to be prepared for a battle—to build the skills, the allies, and the purpose to fight, even when times are hard.

Ellen J. MacKenzie, PhD, ScM, Dean of the Bloomberg School, extended a special congratulations to this year’s Centennial MPH Class, noting that 100 years ago, in 1921, the first cohort of five MPH students graduated from what was then known as the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health. “Like you,” Dean MacKenzie said, “they were entering public health when the world was recovering from a pandemic—the 1918 flu.” Founded in 1916, the School conferred its first degree, a DrPH, in 1918. The Bloomberg School has been ranked #1 by U.S. News & World Report since the rankings began in 1994.

Dean MacKenzie honored Corbett with the Dean’s Medal, the highest recognition the Bloomberg School confers on public health leaders. Corbett received a BS in biological sciences and sociology in 2008 from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, where she was a student in the Meyerhoff Scholars Program. She received a PhD in microbiology and immunology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2014. Since then, Corbett has been a postdoctoral research fellow at NIAID’s Vaccine Research Center. Corbett has also been working to rebuild vaccine trust among communities of color and serves as a mentor.

In her speech, Corbett recounted how as a 20-year-old student at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, she participated as a researcher in a study that showed that one’s environment, including their neighborhood, can affect their health outcomes. “You knew that,” she told students. “That to me, though, at 20 years old, was astonishing.”

At this same time she was interning at the National Institutes of Health Vaccine Research Center. She shared that the more she learned about vaccines, the more she saw their promise to address health inequities. “With these inexpensive, preventative medicines, we could maybe equalize the playing field, no matter where people live,” she said. “We all know that comes with caveats, but in the end, yes, vaccines have the potential to be one of the great equalizers of health disparities.”

Corbett also emphasized preparedness, observing that the dictionary defines it as “the state of being prepared, especially in times of war.” She implored the new graduates to find their “secret weapon.” She continued: “This is the thing that is yours to behold. The thing that is your purpose to this world. This isn’t really about the scientist or vaccinologist or statistician that you are. This is your being, the part of you that you will take to every single profession or place that you embark on in your lifetime.”

In her Convocation remarks, Dean MacKenzie noted that yesterday was the one-year anniversary of George Floyd’s killing by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, which led to demonstrations across the U.S. and prompted discussions across institutions around racism. In March, the Bloomberg School’s new Office of Inclusion, Diversity, Anti-Racism, and Equity, published its action plan. Dean MacKenzie urged the new graduates to do their part. “Your commitment to public health must also mean a commitment to ending racism.”

Dean MacKenzie called upon the new graduates to reenvision public health, to address the social drivers of health, to reinvest in our public health workforce, and to rebuild our public health system. She told the Bloomberg School Class of 2021: “Now is the time for you to lead, to be a catalyst for change.”

There were light moments as well. “I know you have been challenged in many unexpected ways,” Dean MacKenzie said of an academic year that consisted of remote and/or hybrid learning. “We should award each of you a PhD in perseverance and, at least, a master’s in Zoom.”

On another serious note, Dean MacKenzie spoke to vaccine availability and hesitancy. “While the speed at which COVID-19 vaccines were developed provides so much hope, we must now make sure they are widely available and used here at home and around the world.”

She also reminded students of the possibilities ahead. “The world, as broken as it seems at times, is before you—and needs you. Opportunities abound.”

As is tradition at the Bloomberg School’s Convocation, faculty and students recited The International Declaration of Health Rights, which was created by Bloomberg School of Public Health students, faculty, and alumni in 1991 on the occasion of the School’s 75th anniversary. The Declaration is a commitment “to advocacy and action to promote the health rights of all human beings.”

The Bloomberg School Class of 2021 joins over 26,000 alumni living across the U.S. and throughout the world.

A recording of the full Convocation ceremony is available here.

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Media contacts: Carly Kempler at ckemple2@jhu.edu and Barbara Benham at bbenham1@jhu.edu.