MS Commencement speaker: Blessed Ovie, MS'20

May 31, 2020

Blessed Ovie, MS'20

Good morning to you all.

Everything that I am today has been by the grace of God.

Today marks an important day of my life and for most of us. Many of you know me as that student who arrived from Africa with just a backpack for a nine month program as mentioned during 2019 orientation, thank you Assistant Dean Ravi! As a dedicated public health development field officer in rural communities, that is how I often travel.

I worked for a decade in Nigeria’s public health sector, and during this period I often noticed social factors having a huge impact on public health outcomes. I needed to understand better the interaction of health and social policy to improve access to healthcare. I searched the internet for several days for a school that offers this mix until I found the Heller School, though it was not a familiar name it had unique programs that were great for me.

My Heller journey: In 2015, I applied and was rejected, I reminded myself that “winners never quit, and quitters never win!” I applied again in 2016 and was accepted but failed to secure funding, so I deferred my admission to 2017. By 2017, I got some funding but was denied a visa. At this point, I lost the enrollment deposit, other funds spent in the process and the partial scholarship awarded to me. This, for sure, should have extinguished any determination I had to go further. But I was more resolute so, I reapplied in 2018 and was accepted again with a higher partial scholarship, I got funding and a visa this time. So, what you see today is a journey that began in 2015. And yes, today in 2020 I am graduating!!!

Heller has been a wonderful place to study and be impacted, a community of supportive students, faculty, and staff. Professors are approachable and always ready to listen and give you the support you need. In Heller, you do not only get knowledge from your study program; you get a global multicultural community of great people who see you like family and support mutual success. Graduating during this pandemic has been really challenging, nonetheless, I am grateful to the Brandeis community for their support to transition us to this new mode of learning, assisting us with various resources; from the emergency funds to other academic materials to cope with the challenges.

This is a period of global distress, with us and our loved ones grasping for hope and survival. One of the best ways to stay healthy while practicing social and physical distancing during this period is to remain enthusiastic and optimistic (although it’s very difficult) that we would get through this, come out tougher as individuals and as a family. Choosing to be on the other side of the fence of despair and pessimism will not in any way improve our physiological, psychological, mental, or physical health to mitigate the grave effects of this pandemic. So please, let us not lose our minds because we need the mind for the wonderful future ahead.

To the MS’20 class, thank you for giving me this opportunity to stand here and speak. With perseverance and fortitude, we got here through exciting yet very difficult courses. At some points, every other day was another submission deadline that seems like it would never end. COVID-19 has revealed the fragility of our health and socioeconomic systems, telling us that these systems need strengthening. Professors Bowser, Fournier, Nandakumar, Ravi, Gaumer, and others have given us tools to think out answers to strengthen our systems and change the world as health policy experts. Let us go out there to make a difference, not just to make a living to pay bills. Posterity will only appreciate and remember us for the difference and impact we made and not the living we made for ourselves.

In conclusion, this journey wouldn’t have been possible without God, my wife and kids, The Grace Church family, The Refuge House family, my Graduate Student Affairs team, Brandeis Graduate Christian Fellowship, Jodi Case, Professor Ronnie Levin, Stephen Osei-Bonsu, my brilliant classmates and the arrival of our adorable MS’20 baby—Elsie Emmanuella. How can I forget beautiful people like Joleen, Mary Poor, Sandra Jones, Benny’s team, Victoria, Karen, our Starbucks Rose, as well as our friends from the SID, COEX, MPP and MBA programs? May our light continue to shine unto a perfect day as great alumni.

THIS IS OUR HOUSE!

Thank you all.

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