College of Medicine and Life Sciences - Commencement

Commencement Speaker

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2024 Commencement Speaker

Watch the Speech:

Headshot of Dr. Patrice A. HarrisDr. Patrice A. Harris served as the commencement speaker for the College of Medicine and Life Sciences ceremony on May 17, 2024, and was also awarded an honorary degree (honoris causa) of Doctor of Science.

Dr. Harris, CEO and Co-Founder of eMed, is a board-certified psychiatrist with a passion to improve the lives of children. She is a visiting professor of psychiatry at the Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and serves as Chief Health and Medical Editor of

Dr. Harris served as the 174th President of the American Medical Association, the first African American woman to hold the position. Dr. Harris served on the AMA Board of Trustees from 2011-2021 and as chair of the BOT from 2016 to 2017. Dr. Harris led the AMA’s efforts to end the opioid epidemic and served as chair of the AMA Opioid Task Force from its inception in 2014 to 2021. Dr. Harris led the Task Force as it worked across every state to eliminate barriers to treatment, provide patients with access to affordable, non-opioid pain care, and fight the stigma faced by those with substance use-disorders.

Beyond the AMA, Dr. Harris has held positions of leadership with the American Psychiatric Association, the Georgia Psychiatric Physicians Association, the Medical Association of Georgia, and The Big Cities Health Coalition, where she chaired this forum composed of leaders from America’s largest metropolitan health departments. She is a member of the Steering Committee of the Atlanta Regional Collaborative for Health Improvement (ARCHI) and the Board of the Georgia Aids Coalition.  She also serves on the Board of Quartet Health.

Growing up in Bluefield, West Virginia, Dr. Harris dreamt of entering medicine at a time when few women of color were encouraged to become physicians. Dr. Harris spent her formative years at West Virginia University, earning a B.A. in psychology, an M.A. in counseling psychology and, ultimately, a medical degree (M.D.). It was during this time that her passion for helping children emerged, and she completed her psychiatry residency and fellowships in child and adolescent psychiatry and forensic psychiatry at the Emory University School of Medicine. She also served as the senior policy fellow at the Barton Child Law and Policy Center at the Emory University School of Law.

Two themes that govern Dr. Harris’ professional life are a passion to improve the lives of children and service to others. A recognized expert in children’s mental health and childhood trauma, Dr. Harris has led efforts on both local and national levels to integrate public health and behavioral health into overall healthcare and addressing the health inequities and the social determinants of health. She has long been a mentor, a role model and an advocate.

Dr. Harris is a highly sought after speaker at national and international conferences and has given invited lectures and presentations on COVID-19, children’s mental health, childhood trauma, integration of mental health into overall health services, health equity, health policy and the intersection of athletics and health. She has been a guest expert on multiple national radio and television networks including CNN, MSNBC, Fox and NPR. Dr. Harris has received numerous awards in recognition of her service and leadership.

Dr. Harris is fellow of the American Psychiatric Association and is adjunct assistant professor in the Emory Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, and an adjunct clinical assistant professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Morehouse School of Medicine. She serves on the boards of United Bankshares, Inc. and Quartet Health.

Dr. Harris address graduates at the commencement ceremony Friday, May 17, 2024, at John F. Savage Arena. 

Grand Rounds:

Dr. Harris also presented grand rounds, titled "Leadership, Changemaking and Connecting the Dots," on Friday morning.

See the full list of Honorary Degree Recipients since 1972

Last Updated: 5/20/24