MS Commencement Speaker: Funke Falade, MS'18

May 13, 2018

Funke Falade, MS'18

I once read that the fear of public speaking is greater than the fear for death for most people. But this morning, thanks to the MS cohort who chose me to speak on their behalf today, I am facing my fears.

My path to Heller didn’t have one big lightbulb moment, but rather small, almost hidden signposts. I remember meeting with development partners and wondering why their programs were so inefficient. I remember in 2009, UNICEF announced new and shockingly high maternal mortality ratio estimates in my country, Nigeria. That was the first time I really got a sense of how bad health outcomes were for my country. Recently, I remember getting impatient with the bandying around of the word “sustainability” with no true understanding of its meaning. The more I worked, the more I realized I needed answers that would help me be part of the solution. I came to Heller to find those answers.

I was especially looking forward to taking the International Health Systems course, which had drawn me to the program in the first place.  I was shocked, and to be honest slightly annoyed, when Professor Bowser announced that she would not be providing us with any answers to solve our countries’ problems. Now, I see the value in that—in the last 9 months, my classmates and I have explored various tools to dig beneath the surface, to examine issues from different perspectives and to find our own answers. When I think of my country and others like it, I wonder if being told what to do, when to do it and how to do it has not been a big part of our problem. I wonder if any community, society or country ever fully develops without coming to the realization that its must seek its own answers.

Heller validated my understanding of excellence: always giving 100 percent. I’ve learned this through excellent faculty that give everything to what they do and who are not afraid to learn from their students. Heller has trained me to pursue excellence with its unflinching standards and sometimes, ruthless deadlines. I remember professors’ promises of papers only taking two hours, though they eventually took two days. Even after I leave Heller, I will continue to hold myself to those standards.

At Heller, I also discovered that I really do love my country. Not a “rose-tinted glasses” kind of love, but one that appreciates that it can be tough in Nigeria. I missed the heat. I missed jollof rice—a delicacy that has the special ability to make anyone who eats it happy. I greedily read every headline and my heart sank every time I had to look up a human development indicator and see that we were nearer the bottom than the top. I poured out my frustration in my papers. Now it’s time to go back. I’m only one out of 190 million, can I really change such a huge, complex country? Perhaps not. But if I combine all the things I learned at Heller—the tools for finding the answers, being my best self everyday and loving my country, I can make a difference at a systemic level. I want to help steer Nigeria into being the country it has the potential to be.

This 9-month journey would have been impossible without my reliance on God’s love and grace. My husband has been my one-man cheerleading squad and his dreams for me are bigger than mine. Our cohort this year is a glimpse of what a diverse, perfect world will look like. We are all different, yet we got through this together and now I have new friends from 15 countries. In closing, I would like to congratulate the MS class of 2018—we did it! May we continue to blaze a path of excellence wherever we are.