May 13, 2017

I feel a deep connection to Gillings because of the mission you hold dear – improving public health, promoting individual well-being, and eliminating health inequities across North Carolina and around the world.

At the Gillings School, you’ve learned to do the kind of work that matters most of all – work that that helps the needy, heals the sick and enables people to make the most of their own lives.

Keep looking outward, looking upward and empowering others – and the world will be a better place because of YOU.

Aaron Williams (right) shakes hands with a new alumnus.

Commencement speaker Aaron Williams (right) shakes hands with a new alumnus.

So said Aaron Williams, MBA, executive vice president for government relations and corporate communications at RTI International and former director of the Peace Corps, who delivered the 2017 commencement address at UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health on May 13.

“Gillings graduates work at every point on the public health spectrum,” noted Williams, who served as director of the United States Peace Corps from 2012 to 2015. “[They’re employed] in hospitals and with health-care providers… in nonprofit organizations at home and abroad… as professors of public health at top-ranked universities… as leaders across federal, state and local government agencies… and as thought leaders at some of the world’s most respected firms, many based here in the Triangle.”

Friends, family, faculty members and others watched as 329 students became alumni as members of the Gillings School’s 77th graduating class.

Among the graduates were 105 who received Bachelor of Science in Public Health degrees from four departments (biostatistics, environmental sciences and engineering, health policy and management and nutrition), 180 who received master’s degrees and 44 who received doctorates.

Dr. Laura Linnan (center) presented outstanding teaching and mentoring awards to Dr. Marisa Domino (left) and Dr. Stephanie Engel.

Dr. Laura Linnan (center) presented outstanding teaching and mentoring awards to Dr. Marisa Domino (left) and Dr. Stephanie Engel.

Barbara K. Rimer, DrPH, dean and Alumni Distinguished Professor at the Gillings School, expressed personal pride in the graduates, offering ten tips to guide them on their life journeys. “It is up to you make a better world,” she said.

Her advice included:

  1. Keep your sights focused on the big drivers of health, illness, life, death, quality of life and cost.
  2. Regardless of political leaders, don’t allow yourselves to be overwhelmed by the present. You can make a positive difference. The present passes.
  3. Stand for diversity, inclusion and fairness in your actions and advocacy.
  4. Use your voice in measured ways. Pick carefully the issues for which you advocate so your messages aren’t lost.
  5. Your good name and reputation are the most important currency you have. At the end of the day, your own integrity matters more than anything and will affect everything you do.
  6. Be impatient for fairness and justice in the world, but patient about the progress of your own careers. Great jobs rarely happen overnight – or in a linear way.
  7. Build your own resilience.
  8. Find mentors who will support you, and mentor others.
  9. Practice good health habits.
  10. Persevere.

The commencement ceremony also included the presentation of two of the School’s prestigious teaching and mentoring awards.

Marisa Domino, PhD, professor of health policy and management, received the McGavran Award for Excellence in Teaching.

Stephanie Engel, PhD, associate professor of epidemiology, received the John E. Larsh Award for Mentorship.

Photographs from the commencement are available on Flickr.


Gillings School of Global Public Health contact: David Pesci, director of communications, (919) 962-2600 or

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