he Annual Jakes Gerwel Award in Public Health, made possible through a grant by The Mauerberger Foundation Fund, honors the former Rector and Vice Chancellor of UWC Professor Jakes Gerwel as a visionary leader who went on to join President Nelson Mandela as the Director General in his cabinet office. As UWC Vice-Chancellor Professor Gerwel advocated passionately for and supported development of South Africa’s first School of Public Health . He clearly saw the need for UWC to focus on public health practice that led to measurable improvements in people’s health and policy that was based on solid science. Over the last few years the UWC School of Public Health (SOPH) has achieved these aspirations. The SOPH has alumni across the African continent and beyond, who have brought their training at UWC to bear on their work in public health systems and civil society. Since 2012 the SOPH has annually honored one of its alumni, who has made an outstanding contribution in the field of public health, with the Jakes Gerwel Award.
Dr. Amir Aman, Minister, Ministry of Health, Ethiopia was chosen as the 2018 recipient, and he was honored with the award at the UWC graduation ceremony on 14 December. Dr Amir was introduced by Ms Dianna Yach, Chairperson and Director of Mauerberger Foundation Fund, and received his award from a member of the Jakes Gerwel family. Dr Amir Aman then delivered his Commencement Address to the Graduating Class.
Watch the award ceremony here:
Read Dr Amir’s Commencement Address below.
Thank you for the invitation to give a commencement address to this graduating class.
Graduating class — first and foremost — I want to congratulate your families for their sacrifices, you for your perseverance, your teachers for their dedication to teach and mold you, and the people of your country for giving you the opportunity to become productive members of society.
Let’s give all a clapping hand to whom I just mentioned …
Ladies and gentlemen …
For me, being among you to give a commencement speech is special, because just a few years back, I was also a graduate student working on a master’s degree in public health. Similar to my experience, I am confident that your experience here at the University of Western Cape, has been an inspiration for you to engage in public service.
I must say I am also humbled and honored, and at the same time delighted, to be in your midst to receive the “Jakes Gerwel Award” which honors the former Rector and Vice Chancellor of the University of West Cape Professor Jakes Gerwel. Professor Gerwel was a visionary leader, who went on to join President Nelson Mandela as the Director General in his cabinet office, and later to lead the Mandela Foundation. My understanding is that, as Director General of President Mandela, he was his most loyal and trusted advisor, and they shared value of personal integrity and, similarly, their life’s ambition was to serve their country, not themselves.
For me, getting into a public health profession was a calling, rather than a run in the mill career to make a living. It was after having attained a degree in medicine that I decided to pursue a master’s degree in public health here at UWC because I committed myself to engage in public service and decided to become a public servant. I have never regretted this decision.
Actually, it has been very fulfilling!
Dear graduating class …
In your journey to attain a higher education at UWC, similar as Mandela said “Ndiwelimilambo enamagama” – you have traveled and, in the process, gained much experience by crossing famous rivers. Hopefully, your experience at UWC has helped you to become a learning public servant rather than a learned know it all bureaucrat. Your graduation today doesn’t mean that you are done with all your learning. Therefore, I encourage you to become lifelong learners, and humble and helpful public servants!
Remember, your achievements as health professionals will be worthwhile if it is judged by how many lives you touched rather than by how much money you made in your lifetime – after all, you’re not going to take it with you.
Remember, also, with all its ups and downs, as the expression goes, life is a journey and not a destination. Therefore, I encourage you to enjoy and learn from the journey as public health servants, and not just focus on end results only.
Also, remember, that public service requires you to be of service to others, meaning servants to your community. As Mahatma Gandhi one’s said:
A customer is the most important visitor on our premises; he is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to do so.
Therefore, remember that you’re privileged to be given an opportunity to serve, which is a higher calling.
Finally, whenever I give a commencement speech to health professionals in Ethiopia, as per our old traditional culture, we call “memerek” – which means to extend one’s blessing – please allow me to extend my best wishes and blessings to the new graduates.
May your mind be sharp and mindful to understand and overcome the complexities of life’s challenges.
May your heart be open and compassionate towards other’s trials and tribulations.
May your actions be empathic and uplifting towards others and participate in celebrating their triumphs and achievements.
May your hands be agile to perform the most complex tasks in the process of taking care of others.
May your public service as health professionals bring about joy, fulfillment, and meaning to your and other peoples lives.
May your Creator bless you to live long enough to comb gray hair.
Thank you all, and I wish you all my best in all your future endeavors as you embark on your journey of becoming respectful and compassionate public health professionals and servants!
Photo Courtesy of, UWCPhotoOnline