Celebrating the Class of 2021

May 14, 2021
RSPH commencement

On Friday, May 14 at 9 a.m., the Rollins School of Public Health held a hybrid commencement ceremony at the Georgia World Congress Center in downtown Atlanta. Guests and graduates followed strict masking and social distancing protocols, with all seating spaced at six feet apart to adhere to COVID-19 safety protocols set by the CDC and followed by the venue. Given the unique circumstances posed by the pandemic, many graduates, faculty, and staff opted to stay home and watch the livestream for the event while others attended the ceremony in person. Approximately 1,300 people watched the ceremony live over the virtual recording, while 449 graduates attended in person. 

This year, 648 students were awarded master’s degrees, 30 received dual degrees, and 33 received PhD degrees. Among the graduating class, the youngest student was 21, the oldest was 65. Graduates represented 43 states, Puerto Rico, and Guam, as well as 22 additional countries. These graduates join a global network of more than 11,000 alumni in all 50 states and 104 countries.

Watch a recording of the 2021 commencement ceremony. 

Muslim Religious Life Scholar from the Emory University Office of Spiritual and Religious Life, Dr. Isam Vaid, initiated the program with the delivery of an eloquent invocation that addressed the suffering and challenges of the past year, and called for continued collaboration, courage, and humanity among the graduates in the years ahead.


Dean James W. Curran, MD, MPH, followed Vaid and commended the entire Rollins community for their accomplishments and response over the past year. In his address to students he said, “For the rest of your lives, you’re going to say, ‘I was in public health school when the biggest public health crisis of the century occurred.”

Curran went on to acknowledge the hard work and contributions made by the graduating class, including the activities of the COVID-19 Outbreak Response Team, COVID testing and volunteer efforts, racial justice efforts, and the activities of the Rollins Election Day Initiative.

Lul Mohamud was nominated and selected by her peers to serve as this year’s student speaker and she did not disappoint. She delivered a powerful and evocative speech that addressed many of the social and public health crises facing the world—including public health inequities and racism—and pressed for her peers to be courageous as they head out into their careers and post-Rollins lives.  She asked her cohort, “Do you have the courage to lead this change?”

Curran and Executive Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Kimberly Jacob Arriola, PhD, MPH, announced the year’s award winners (see the full list below). Several of the winners were acknowledged via video presentations delivered virtually and on the signage system of the Georgia World Congress Center.

Jonathan Lewin, MD, executive director of the Woodruff Health Sciences Center, congratulated graduates on their achievement during a difficult year. He was followed by Emory University President Gregory L. Fenves, PhD, who offered graduates his personal congratulations and admiration. A video presentation from Fenves followed, awarding Dr. Anthony Fauci with the Emory President’s Medal, which was followed by an acceptance video from Fauci. In it, Fauci said there were two things this pandemic has taught us: that science will be the solution to the pandemic and that social divisiveness is counterproductive during a pandemic. “We must not be at odds with one another,” he said. “The virus is the enemy, not each other.”


Students were then acknowledged and had the opportunity to walk across the stage—quickly—as their names were called and their photos were displayed over the signage system. The ceremony closed with Emory a capella group, No Strings Attached singing the Emory Alma Mater.   

Congratulations to all graduates!

2021 Graduation Award Winners  

James W. Alley Award- Alison Hoover, MPH
The James W. Alley Award honors the memory of a long-time state health officer in Georgia and friend of our school. It goes to a student who has provided service to Disadvantaged Populations. Learn more about Hoover and her work with the Dignity Pack Project.

Eugene J. Gangarosa Award- Paul Elish, MPH
The Eugene J. Gangarosa Award honors a founder of our school and early leader, Dr. Gangarosa. The award recognizes a student exhibiting creative approaches to problem-solving and outstanding service in the international arena.

Thomas F. Sellers, Jr. Award- K.M. Venkat Narayan, MD, MSc, MBA
The Thomas F. Sellers Award honors another founder of our school of public health and former Chair of Community Health in our School of Medicine, Dr. Sellers. This award celebrates a faculty member who is a role model and mentor to others.

Woman’s Club Scholarship- Taylor Burey
This scholarship is presented each year to a continuing student who is dedicated to improving the health of women. 

Provost’s Distinguished Teaching Award for Excellence in Graduate and Professional Education- Briana Woods-Jaeger, PhD
The award is given annually at Commencement to one faculty member in each of the seven graduate and professional schools in recognition of the important role of exceptional teaching in graduate and professional education.

Marion Luther Brittain Award- Lisa Chung, MPH
This award of highest honor provided to one graduate student who is considered to have performed the most significant, meritorious and devoted service to Emory University. This is the first time that this has been awarded to a Master of Public Health student.  Read more about Lisa and her selection for this award.

Heart of Emory Award- Nellie Garlow, MPH
This  award of highest honor is provided to students who truly represent the best of what Emory has been and will be. Read an article about Nellie Garlow and why she was selected for this award.

Charles C. Shepard Award- Jamie VanTassell, MPH
This award is presented to a graduating student who authored the most outstanding thesis.  View presentations for all finalists. 

Charles R. Hatcher Jr., M.D. Award for Excellence in Public Health- Carlos del Rio, MD
This award is presented to faculty members of the Woodruff Health Sciences Center who, through their lifetime of work, exemplify excellence in public health.

RSGA Faculty Member of the Year Award- Lauren Christiansen-Lindquist, PhD, MPH
The Rollins Student Government Association (RSGA) honors an outstanding faculty member voted by the students of RSPH.

RSGA Staff Member of the Year Award- Joanne Williams, MPH, CHES
Each year, RSGA honors an outstanding staff member voted by the students of Rollins. Williams was also named the 2021 Advisor/Mentor of the year for the second year in a row.  Read more about Williams and her outstanding contributions to Rollins.

Department Distinguished Teaching Awards
These awards recognize exceptional faculty who improve the academic environment through excellence in teaching.

Department of Behavioral, Social and Health Education Sciences- Robin McGee, PhD; and Melvin Livingston, PHD

Department of Biostatistics and Bioinformatics- Benjamin Risk, PhD

Department of Epidemiology- Lauren McCullough, PhD, MSPH

Department of Health Policy and Management- Richard Saltman, PhD

Executive MPH Program- Dan Rutz, MPH

Gangarosa Department of Environmental Health- Mike Caudle, PhD

Hubert Department of Global Health- Joanne McGriff, MD, MPH, JM

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