PhD Commencement Speaker: Brooke Evans, PhD'19

May 19, 2019

Brooke Evans, PhD'19, speaks at Heller commencement

Good morning and welcome everyone. I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to you this morning.

Before I came to the Heller School, I was working with Health Care for the Homeless on the island of Oahu, in my home state of Hawaii. As a clinical social worker, I worked with a team of medical professionals to meet the medical, mental health, addiction, emotional, and housing needs of patients. This could mean helping someone living on the streets obtain much-needed medications, or talking with a person in recovery about their sobriety and how this might be challenged by housing insecurity. We worked tirelessly to assist patients with obtaining health insurance and to navigate a confusing, and often disconnected, health care system – tasks that are challenging for most people, and even more so for someone living with homelessness. 

Experiences like these brought me face-to-face with health care inequities, service gaps, and numerous other problems embedded in our current health care system. They ignited a desire within me to improve and reform health care systems and services in the United States. To do this, I knew that I would need to leave Hawaii to broaden my knowledge base and learn effective tools to connect the dots between clinical care, research and evidence, and policy.

Five years ago, I took the 5,000-mile journey to the Heller School to embark on the adventure of getting a PhD in social policy. After I got over the “culture shock” of New England (Have you seen how people drive around here? It’s very different than in Hawaii!) and adjusted to how many layers one really needs to stay warm in a Massachusetts winter, I settled into classes and the goal of learning research. Having been out of school for 10 years, there was definitely a learning curve, but slowly and surely, I found my footing as a researcher and policy practitioner.

Through my educational, research, and work experiences here at the Heller School, I have been able to take learning to the next level and to integrate my personal passions with education, research, and policy. I have learned and worked with some of the brightest minds in health policy and taken part in conversations and activities on how we can improve the U.S. health care system to better meet the needs of all people – not just those with privilege, wealth, and resources. 

Today at commencement, I am excited and eager for what is to come. I am also aware of the responsibility that comes with this important achievement – the responsibility to be part of creating and affecting social change. President Barack Obama once said, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person, or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”

The 12 of us graduating with our PhDs today will leave the Heller School to be part of changing and reforming social policy. We will go into academia, the private sector, and government. We will uncover societal problems and social inequities – and use data and evidence to support social change and transformation. We will use our unique skillsets and our PhDs to be “the change that we seek” in the world. 

Congratulations, graduates – we did it! I am excited to see the wonderful work that we are going to do as new PhDs. Now, let’s get started on making change.