Congratulations UC Berkeley School of Public Health Class of 2021!

2021 Virtual Commencement, May 16, 2021


California Department of Public Health


May 22, 2021

Virtual Commencement

This is the 75th graduating class! Here is the Virtual Commencement (and below) and program.

Alum of the Year

I was very honored and humbled to be selected the 2021 Alumnus of the Year. Below are my comments delivered at the commencement and thanks to the SPH community.

Commencement comments (starts at 58:57)

I want to express my enormous gratitude to the UC Berkeley SPH community for selecting me as the “2021 Alumnus of the Year.” For me, this is a tremendous honor. The SPH has a very special place in my heart

I graduated in 2000 with a Doctor of Public Health degree. From 2003 to 2010, at the SPH I directed a CDC center on infectious disease emergency preparedness and response. Of course, the Feds cut all our funding, so in 2011, I became the Health Officer of San Francisco.

On January 9, 2020, the WHO announced a mysterious coronavirus pneumonia in Wuhan, China. On January 21st, I activated our public health emergency response, and the same day the CDC confirmed the first coronavirus case in the US. On Sunday, March 15th, I woke up not realizing that the very next day, March 16th, I, along with six Bay Area health officers, would be issuing the first regional stay-at-home orders in the United States. California followed on March 19th, and New York City on March 22nd.

That decision, came together with lightning speed because we had developed a relationship based on trust, respect, and universal values. Dr. Monica Sharma, former director of leadership development at the United Nations, defines universal values as values that apply to every person on earth, leaving no one behind. She learned that embodying and promoting the values of dignity, equity, compassion, and humility were the most effective: they enabled people to come together, transcend differences, find common ground, and solve complex problems—in our case—could we dodge a public health catastrophe through swift public health action?

Our team had embraced what Dr. Sharma calls radical transformational leadership—leading change from the universal values of dignity, equity, compassion, and humility to transform self, people, systems and cultures towards equity, antiracism, and sustainable results.

Embodying humility opens your heart and mind to listening deeply to opposing points of view; it accelerates group learning and problem solving. With humility you come to appreciate and value multiple truths. You embrace curiosity over certainty, inquiry before advocacy, and discernment over judgment.

Today, as you embark on your public health careers, I hope you will become radical transformational leaders, and embody and promote the universal values of dignity, equity, compassion, and humility in every interaction, in every conversation, and in every decision.

Thank you!

Letter of gratitude to SPH community

March 28, 2021

Dear UC Berkeley SPH family,

I want to express my enormous gratitude for selecting me as the 2021 Alum of the Year. For me, this is a tremendous honor. UC Berkeley SPH has a very special place in my heart. I grew up in San Francisco’s Mission District. My family immigrated from Nicaragua in the 1950s. My father completed high school and my mother completed sixth grade. He worked as a cook and dishwasher and she as a seamstress. When I was 5 my mom became a single parent raising four children. She became my role model and moral compass.

I was accepted to UC Berkeley at the age of 17 through the Affirmative Action and Education Opportunity Programs. Unfortunately, I dropped out after two quarters because I was struggling academically. I did not have the academic preparation of other students. I enrolled in SF State, improved my study skills, got my grades up and returned to UC Berkeley in 1981 to study molecular biology. As an undergraduate I enrolled in a SPH course on cancer epidemiology. I was hooked! I knew that public health and epidemiology would always be a part of my career.

In medical school, I received my MPH degree. After my primary care internal medicine residency and infectious disease fellowship at UCSF, I received my Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) from the UC Berkeley School of Public Health. I had the privilege to learn from the best epidemiology and biostatistics professors in the nation. I studied everything from advanced biostatistics to mathematical demography and modeling.

Since 2003 I have been a voluntary lecturer at the UCB SPH teaching “Applied Epidemiology Using R,” even after I became health officer of San Francisco in 2011. When I started teaching this course few were interested in R. I had the privilege to see firsthand computational thinking and data science explode in innovation. Through their innovative class projects, my students were teaching me more than I was teaching them. I experienced what I call “population health data science” (descriptive, predictive, causal inference, modeling, and optimization methods). I get to bring all of this innovation into my public health practice!

As public health officials we make daily decisions in the face of uncertainty, time constraints, competing objectives, and limited information. This culminated with the Bay Area health officers issuing shelter-in-place orders on March 16, 2020. All of my public health decisions and public health orders have been influenced by the UC Berkeley School of Public Health.

I am indebted to you all—students, professors, and staff! You have had a real hand in my public health career and actions.

That is why being selected the 2021 University of California, Berkeley School of Public Health Alum of the Year is the most valued honor I could ever receive.

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

With tremendous gratitude,

Tomás Aragón

UC Berkeley Class of 1983 (AB, Molecular Biology)

UC Berkeley School of Public Health, Class of 2000 (DrPH, Epidemiology)