NIH Record - National Institutes of Health

Bertagnolli Speaks at Columbia Mailman School Graduation

Bertagnolli in graduation regalia at the podium
NIH Director Dr. Monica Bertagnolli speaks at the graduation ceremony.

NIH Director Dr. Monica Bertagnolli gave commencement remarks at Columbia Mailman School of Public Health on May 14. The ceremony was held at Columbia University’s Armory Foundation in New York City.

The 2024 Class Day speaker and recipient of the Columbia Mailman Visionary Leadership Award, Bertagnolli addressed more than 750 graduating students, joined by their faculty, family and other guests.

This year the school’s master’s and doctoral graduates hail from 40 countries and 45 U.S. states and territories.

Focusing on the “great joys together with the considerable challenges” of a career in public health, Bertagnolli described several areas where medical science has made extraordinary progress in recent decades, such as in developing treatments for hemophilia and HIV. 

Three women and one man smile with Columbia Mailman School of Public Health logo behind them.
At the graduation ceremony are (from l) Dr. Gary Miller, vice dean for research strategy and innovation, and professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia Mailman School of Public Health; Dr. Katrina Armstrong, CEO of Columbia University Irving Medical Centers; Bertagnolli; and Dean Linda P. Fried.

Photo:  Credit LESLYE SMITH

However, she pointed out, access to treatments for many similar debilitating and lethal conditions has not kept pace. 

“Therapies that work can’t be considered effective if they aren’t accessible to people who need them,” Bertagnolli emphasized, adding that society is “at the cusp of being able to cure deadly and debilitating diseases but still struggling with ways to ensure that our life-changing advances are available to all who need them.” 

Closing gaps in access requires a commitment to addressing all determinants of health, she said, concluding, “You are the new generation to take on the challenge of caring for everyone, with the wellbeing of all of society as your highest priority, and I have great confidence in you.”  

To view Bertagnolli's full speech, visit

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