Courtesy of Howard Forman

On May 25, 2003, Vivek Murthy MED ’03 MBA ’03 sat on Old Campus and listened to prize-winning journalist Thomas Friedman deliver the Class Day address a day before receiving his medical and business degrees at Yale’s 2003 commencement ceremonies. 

Now, over 20 years later, the United States Surgeon General will return to the University to address this year’s graduating class. 

Typically held the day before University commencement exercises, Class Day will take place on Sunday, May 19. In the morning, seniors will attend a baccalaureate ceremony, which includes remarks from the University president and deans. Following an interlude brunch, graduating students will gather on Old Campus for Class Day exercises. Previous Class Day speakers have included television journalist Fareed Zakaria ’86, actor Tom Hanks and then-U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden.

“As a proud Yale alumnus, and as the spouse of an equally proud Yale College alum, it is truly an honor to join Yale’s graduates on Class Day this year,” wrote Murthy in an email to the News. “Class Day is our time to celebrate the relationships you’ve built, the knowledge you’ve gained, and the dreams you have shaped and forged. It’s also a moment to express our gratitude to all those who made this journey possible. I hope this day will be full of joy, appreciation, and friendship for all our graduates.”

Yale College Dean Pericles Lewis told the News that although Class Day speakers were previously selected with student input, they are now chosen a year or two in advance by the College Dean’s Office and the University president, who ultimately extends the invitation to the speaker. The announcement, he added, is saved until a month before the event.

Lewis thought Murthy would be an optimal choice for this year’s senior class since he is an expert in public health and helped tackle these issues during the pandemic. 

“He’s a very distinguished alum,” Lewis said. “He played an important role in public health and public health is an area of great importance, especially since, it’s always been an important one, but we’ve been pretty conscious of it since the pandemic, and he’s also an excellent speaker and he’s written well on these issues.”

At Yale, Murthy helped start “The Healer’s Art” — a four-week-long elective in which medical students discuss critical topics that surround the daily life of a physician.  He was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in 2021 for his second term as the U.S. Surgeon General, returning to the role that he held in the Obama Administration. 

During his tenure, Murthy has long been an advocate for mental health and preventing physician burnout. In 2021, he released a widely-cited advisory report warning about challenges in youth mental health. His office has issued warnings about the impacts of social media on adolescent mental health, as well.

Howard Forman, a professor of radiology, public health, management and economics, was a mentor and professor to Murthy during his time at the School of Medicine and the School of Management. He said he believes that Murthy’s announcement as Class Speaker will be impactful — particularly given Murthy’s advocacy for adolescent mental health during his time as Surgeon General.

“I think he particularly, at this point in his career, connects very well with young adults and adolescents [with his expertise] in the areas around mental health, well-being and new challenges of our time,” Forman said. 

In recent years, Murthy has often returned to New Haven for Yale graduations and visits with students, faculty, public officials and the New Haven community.

His most recent campus visit occurred in September 2022, during which he spoke to crowds at the Law School, School of Public Health and School of Management about youth mental health. During the trip, he also led a panel discussion at Southern Connecticut State University and met with Mayor Justin Elicker and Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont.

Murthy’s upcoming address is especially poignant for the students in the Class of 2024 who began their Yale experience in the fall of 2020 — the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic — senior class co-president Shandra Ahsan ’24 noted.

“I was honestly really excited to see that he was our Class Day speaker this year,” Ahsan wrote to the News. “I’ve really appreciated his platform on mental health and social isolation as public health crises, and I think he’ll have a thoughtful perspective to bring to a group of young adults about to enter a new phase of life.”

University President Peter Salovey wrote to the News that he also looks forward to Murthy’s speech. 

Salovey added that he believes Murthy will inspire students to lead a life in pursuit of their own careers “with similar steadfastness, vision and compassion.”

“Dr. Murthy is an example of the power of Yale alumni to change our country and the world for the better,” Salovey said. “He has inspired members of the Yale community — and individuals around the world — with his dedication to saving and improving lives, and to shining light on the most urgent needs of society.”

Last year’s Class Day address was delivered by poet Elizabeth Alexander ’84.

Correction, April 11: A previous version of this article contained one misspelling of Murthy’s name; it has since been amended.

Kaitlyn Pohly is a sophomore in Silliman College. She serves as the Student Life Reporter for the University Desk and previously reported on Student Policy and Affairs. Originally from New York City, Kaitlyn is a History major. Outside of the classroom and the newsroom, Kaitlyn dances with YaleDancers.
Benjamin Hernandez covers Woodbridge Hall, the President's Office. He previously reported on international affairs at Yale. Born and raised in Dallas, Texas, he is a sophomore in Trumbull College majoring in Global Affairs.
Asuka Koda covers the Yale School of Medicine and the Yale School of Public Health. From New York City, she is a first-year in Davenport majoring in Mathematics and Philosophy.