College of Medicine and Life Sciences - Commencement

Commencement Speaker

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2023 Commencement Speaker

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Dr. David R. WilliamsDr. David R. Williams served as the commencement speaker for the College of Medicine and Life Sciences ceremony on May 19, 2023, and was also awarded an honorary degree (honoris causa) of doctor of science.

Dr. Williams is the Florence and Laura Norman Professor of Public Health and Chair, Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. He is also a Professor of African and African American Studies and Sociology at Harvard University.  Previously, he served on the faculty of Yale University (6 years) and the University of Michigan (14 years). He holds an M.P.H. from Loma Linda University and a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Michigan.

Dr. Williams is an internationally recognized authority on social influences on health. He has been invited to keynote scientific conferences in Europe, Africa, Australia, the Middle East, South America, the Caribbean and across the U.S. The author of more than 500 scientific papers, his research has enhanced our understanding of the ways in which race, socioeconomic status, stress, racism, health behavior and religious involvement can affect physical and mental health. The Everyday Discrimination Scale that he developed is the most widely used measure of discrimination in health studies.

He has received numerous honors and awards. He was elected to the National Academy of Medicine in 2001, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2007 and the National Academy of Sciences in 2019. He has also received distinguished contribution awards from the American Sociological Association, the American Psychological Association, the New York Academy of Medicine, the Association of University Programs in Health Administration, and the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). He was ranked as one of the top 10 Most Cited Social Scientists in the world in 2005 and as the Most Cited Black Scholar in the Social Sciences, worldwide, in 2008. In 2014, Thomson Reuters ranked him as one of the World’s Most Influential Scientific Minds.

Dr. Williams has been involved in the development of health policy at the national level in the U.S. He has served on Federal advisory committees and testified at Congressional Briefings. He has served on 10 committees for the National Academy of Medicine, including the committee that prepared the Unequal Treatment report. He has also played a visible leadership role in raising awareness levels of the problem of health inequities and identifying interventions to address them. This includes his service as the staff director of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Commission to Build a Healthier America and as a key scientific advisor to the award-winning PBS film series, Unnatural Causes: Is inequality Making Us Sick? He or his research has been featured by some of the nation’s top print and television news organizations.  His TED Talk, released in 2017, has been translated into 22 languages and has over 1.8 million views.

With funding from the NIH and the sponsorship of the World Health Organization, Dr. Williams directed the South African Stress and Health Study, the first nationally representative study of the prevalence and correlates of mental disorders in sub-Sahara Africa. He has also worked on ethnic inequities with the Toronto Public Health Department, the National Health Service in the U.K. and the Pan American Health Organization. He currently serves on the board of Trustees of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, on the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Solidarity Council on Racial Equity and on the Board of the UK’s National Health Service Race and Health Observatory.

Dr. Williams addressed graduates at the commencement ceremony Friday, May 19, 2023, at John F. Savage Arena.

Grand Rounds:

Dr. Williams also delivered a lecture on Friday morning. Watch the lecture below. Download his presentation (PDF).

See the full list of Honorary Degree Recipients since 1972

Last Updated: 6/26/23