University of Washington School of Public Health

UW SPH News: Public health as a superpower

Public health as a superpower


Nearly 3,500 people gathered at the Alaska Airlines Arena on Sunday, June 10, to celebrate the graduating class of the University of Washington School of Public Health. Speaker Benjamin Danielson, a distinguished pediatrician and social justice activist, praised the public health perspective as a superpower and called graduates “equity’s greatest hope.”

(See photos from the biggest School-wide event of the year.)

Ben Danielson photo
Ben Danielson

“Get out there and do your thing,” Dr. Danielson said. “Disrupt and destroy our most inhumane roots; nurture and advance our better, more loving potential.” (Watch a video or read the transcript.)

The UW School of Public Health graduated 643 students this spring, including 42 students with doctorates, 311 with master’s degrees and 290 with bachelor’s degrees. More than half of the graduates attended the SPH Graduation Celebration, where Dr. Danielson’s message was clear: the public health perspective is a critical, yet underutilized lens needed to tackle the world’s biggest challenges.

Some of our amazing graduates sound off on 'what is public health:'


“This School is building the public health canon of wisdom, and it’s preparing the next generation of public health experts,” Danielson said. “That is honorable work of the highest order.”

He is senior medical director of the Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic, a community clinic of Seattle Children’s, ranked among the nation’s best hospitals for kids. For nearly two decades, he has poured his passion into improving the health of low-income children and their families. A child of the foster care system, he understands that the roots of health extend far beyond the clinic walls and into the socioeconomic situations of his young patients.

“The full body of work done by this School is the story of our lives. It is our scroll, our codex. It is our roadmap and often our cautionary tale. You explain our world to us,” Dr. Danielson said to not only graduates, but also faculty, alumni and staff of the School.

He cited stories of the UW School of Public Health’s impact over the last year – from a study of emerging chemicals in Puget Sound waterways, to a report on the health effects of e-cigarettes, to research that sheds light on our ancestral origins. And he added: “You rising public health stars are breaching the academic training realm at just the right time. Your contributions are much more sublime than a data dump. You are the artists who paint the landscape that is our communities – creating a better picture, a better understanding of our well-being.”

Interim Dean Dr. Joel Kaufman echoed this in his final message to the group, saying, “Each of you has made a commitment to improving the health of populations. You have chosen the noble path of working for the health of the public, and inherit the great tradition of those who came before you.”

Also speaking at the celebration was Dr. Miriam Calkins, a graduate of the School’s Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences and the PhD recipient of the Gilbert S. Omenn Award, the School’s highest academic honor. Before defending her thesis, Dr. Calkins was recruited by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, where she now works as a research scientist.

“As public health graduates, we are continually tasked not only to understand the science and the policy of our own disciplines or passions, but also that of the many other fields that contribute to the vision of healthy people in sustainable communities locally, nationally and globally,” she said. (Watch her speech.)