Gottlieb ’94: Apply Wesleyan Spirit to “Decisive Juncture in History”

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Scott Gottlieb ’94 made remarks during the 189th Commencement Ceremony, (Photo by Olivia Drake MALS ’08)


Scott Gottlieb ’94, a physician, public health and policy advisor and advocate, received an honorary doctorate of science during Wesleyan’s 189th Commencement on Wednesday, May 26. Gottlieb, who earned a BA in economics from Wesleyan, was the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from 2017 to 2019. He is currently a special partner with the venture capital firm New Enterprise Associates, and a resident fellow at public policy think tank the American Enterprise Institute (AEI).

In his speech, Gottlieb drew distinctions between his time at Wesleyan 25 years ago and the experiences of the Class of 2021. Yet he highlighted characteristics shared by all Wesleyan students: the “seriousness” in academic studies, the belief that actions can “transcend the University boundaries to influence the country,” and the feeling of “obligation” to make a difference in individual communities.

“I hope you take that spirit into this uncertain period we’re in, at this very decisive juncture in history, when the country may be more ready than it’s been in many years to hear your voices, and to set about making lasting changes,” he said.

He made the following remarks (as prepared) during Wesleyan’s 189th Commencement Ceremony:

It’s an honor to be here with you today. Twenty-five years ago, I sat here at my own graduation. it was very different. We didn’t have masks. We weren’t social distancing. Senior year was a lot different.

You’re graduating into a difficult moment. But in a way, the events of the past year have forced us to focus on our challenges as a country in a way we haven’t in any recent period.

Our weaknesses in our public health system were only the most immediate challenge.

The most profound and disturbing challenge, laid bare by events of the past year, are our protracted social ills that have hurt too many of us for too long — and were made more glaring by the consequences of the pandemic. COVID hurt some among us a lot more than it hurt others.

Another challenge was our lack of cohesion as a nation, the social and political rifts that were able to divide us. Even on seemingly obvious things like wearing a mask or getting a vaccine.

These are just some of the challenges we face.

Coming from Wesleyan, I know many of you have grappled with these issues, and you already set out to address them. That’s what made Wesleyan so unique.

It wasn’t just about what went on inside the classrooms. More prominent was life outside our formal studies—the political engagement, the intensity of the intellectual environment and cultural environment on campus that Wesleyan fostered, and the impetus to try and affect the world around us.

There was a seriousness to the issues we studied and debated. We believed our actions would transcend the University boundaries to influence the country. And for many of us they did.

Wesleyan inspired a unique activism that permeates what its graduates do, whether they’re expanding the boundaries of finance, of the arts, of community building, government, and countless other acts of service. That inspiration, that belief that you can innovate and change the areas where you work and live, but also that you have an obligation to: That’s uniquely Wesleyan.

I’ve felt it, and I trust that you have too. And I hope you take that spirit into this uncertain period we’re in, at this very decisive juncture in history, when the country may be more ready than it’s been in many years to hear your voices, and to set about making lasting changes.

And I know that many of you are going to be a part of those revolutions.

(View all three 2021 honorary degree recipients here.)