During the recent winter commencement ceremonies, graduates of the College of Medicine, College of Nursing and College of Public Health & Social Work were inspired by Dr. Sue Desmond-Hellmann, the CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Although some in the audience may have been expecting a typical commencement speech, Dr. Desmond-Hellmann flipped the genre’s standard conventions on its head. She explained, “It’s very traditional…for commencement speakers to say, at a moment like this in my speech, something inspiring, something that I leave you with. But here’s the truth: I didn’t come here today to inspire you. I came here today because you inspire me.”
Prior to delivering her speech, Desmond-Hellmann learned about FIU’s proven excellence in student preparedness and success; FIU’s response and the larger community’s resilience in dealing with hurricanes; and how the university cultivates the next generation of leaders in the fields of public health, extreme events and disaster risk and management.
In addition, she met with FIU faculty and students, including a private chat with graduates Jesse Rivera, who received his bachelor of science in nursing, and Kimberley Trought, who received her master of public health.
With a better understanding of the values and capabilities of FIU and its students, she then incorporated these experiences and one-on-one conversations into her speech.
“FIU is a special place,” she told the audience. “So you, class of 2017, have had the benefit of one of the best educations in America — from one of the most inspiring institutions in America. Something truly remarkable is happening here.”
A physician, scientist and philanthropist, prior to working at the foundation, Desmond-Hellmann worked for a biotech firm, where she helped develop breakthrough cancer medicines, and as the first female chancellor of the University of California at San Francisco. Her many honors and awards include recognition by Forbes as a “top 50 most powerful women in business” and induction into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2010.
Estimated to be the largest private foundation in the United States, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works with partner organizations to address critical global problems by using scaled solutions at a local level. Topics and issues the foundation tackles include global health (such as HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria), global development (such as emergency response and nutrition), and postsecondary educational success in the United States.
Desmond-Hellmann is the last in a long list of prestigious speakers addressing FIU graduates. Recent guests include Mayor of Miami Francis Suarez, Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart and former National Security Advisor Susan Rice.