Jeffrey P. Koplan, M.D., M.P.H., says cowboys get a bad rap. In his youth he lived the cowboy life himself on a “quarter-acre spread in suburban Boston … A scene that stirred me repeatedly was the formation of a posse, setting off to apprehend the bad guy,” Koplan told the crowd gathered in Battell Chapel for the School of Public Health Commencement on May 26.

The world needs something like a posse to band together to solve public health crises, said Koplan, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In some circumstances, he acknowledged, “consensus is not possible. … But there are many more when restraint, dialogue, sensitivity and listening to others are called for. Not just for diplomatic show but to serve our national interests.

“There is a prevailing mind-set that we can reject a global warming treaty, be a nonsignatory to a land mine ban and seek to dilute a U.N. treaty [on tobacco control] … with no obvious penalties,” said Koplan, who is now vice president for academic health affairs at Emory University’s Woodruff Health Sciences Center and was elected in June to the Yale Corporation. The advent of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, makes clear “the value of having trusting and close working relationships with a wide variety of nations.”

Students graduating into the public health community form part of a posse “with a sacred mission to improve the health of people everywhere,” Koplan told the 121 men and women receiving master’s and doctoral degrees in public health.

Sahar Rooholamini and Andee Krasner gave the student address together. Krasner told their classmates “to seek justice as the prerequisite of health. It is our view that the greatest advantage of a Yale education is the platform it provides graduates to be able to amplify the voices of those who would otherwise not be heard.”

The students honored Kaveh Khoshnood, M.P.H. ’89, Ph.D. ’95, assistant professor of epidemiology, with the Award for Excellence in Teaching. The Dean’s Prize for an outstanding thesis was awarded to Jennifer Collins and Amelia Shaw. The Henry J. (Sam) Chauncey Jr. Inspiration Award went to Sarah George, and Gina Engler won The Cortlandt Van Rensselaer Creed Award.