The College announced on March 15 that Dr. Helene Gayle, the president and CEO of CARE USA, will be delivering this year’s Commencement address.
Gayle has had a distinguished career in public health and is expected to continue playing a major role in the decades to come. CARE USA has programs in more than 70 countries. Before joining CARE USA, Gayle worked on AIDS-related issues for the CDC, then for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In past years, Gayle was named one of Foreign Policy magazine’s “Top 100 Global Thinkers,” one of Newsweek’s top 10 “Women in Leadership” and one of The Wall Street Journal’s “50 Women to Watch.”
“Helene Gayle is an extraordinary leader,” said College senior Luke Squire, a student on the Commencement committee. “Her work in the public sector, in advocacy and now at CARE USA is a tribute to our old motto, ‘Think one person can change the world? So do we!.’ I think her talk will resonate with a number of different students who pursued different studies and are heading into different fields.”
The Commencement committee, chaired by President Marvin Krislov and composed of students, faculty and members of the president’s senior staff, is charged with selecting each year’s commencement speaker. Once it has decided on several candidates, the committee presents its selection to the Board of Trustees, who give input. Finally, the candidates are contacted and invited.
“We try to have speakers who are enlightening and interesting to a broad group of students and parents,” said Krislov. As a public health advocate, Gayle fit the bill.
“A lot of our students do end up going into public health. It’s one of the more popular fields because it sort of keys into the social justice, social change thing,” said Krislov.
One of the hardest parts of the process, President Krislov said, is finding a speaker who is willing to spend Memorial Day — a day many share with their families — in Oberlin.
Gayle has a family connection to Oberlin — her brother, Jacob Gayle, also a public health advocate, graduated from Oberlin and is part of President Krislov’s advisory council. In fact, according to Krislov, Jacob’s time at Oberlin helped shaped Helene’s career.
“She was here for Jacob, her brother’s graduation,” said Krislov, “and the speaker was D.A. Henderson who came earlier this year, who eradicated smallpox. And D.A. is an Oberlin alumni and he’s one of the people we hold out there as a great role model.”
“And she says that her experience at the Oberlin graduation and listening to D. A. helped persuade her that she wanted to go to public health. So there’s actually a sort of cool connection there.”