Students Enjoy Front Row Seats to Cabinet Secretary's Historic Remarks

Public health students took advantage of a special "#onlyatGW" opportunity Monday September, 8th, 2014, as the live audience for the first major public remarks of the new Health and Human Services Secretary, Sylvia M. Burwell.

Thanks @GWTweets for today's visit! Remember – It’s about moving forward & finding your road to delivering #impact.

— Sylvia Burwell (@SecBurwell) September 8, 2014

Burwell was sworn in by Vice President Joe Biden on June, 24th, 2014 but this event marked her first major public address in her new role within the White House cabinet. President Obama has praised Burwell for being a “proven manager who knows how to deliver results,” including effectively building “deep relationships with Democrats and Republicans alike.” As Secretary, Burwell leads several well-known health-related organizations including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), National Institutes of Health (NIH), and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The Secretary’s visit to GW created a buzz of excitement among students when it was announced on Thursday. “I immediately RSVP’ed,” says Katie Merritt, an environmental and occupational health graduate student. “I was really excited by this opportunity to see the Secretary and didn’t waste a minute” says Merritt who quickly claimed a ticket to the event, which was limited to students, faculty and staff from the George Washington University and held in the 240-seat Jack Morton Auditorium.

Highlights of Secretary Burwell's speech with student reactions by Katie Merritt

Following an introduction by Lynn R. Goldman, dean of the Milken Institute School of Public Health, Burwell took the stage for 30 minutes to discuss challenges facing the organizations she manages, as well as how her approach to leadership was shaped by her early experiences. “The values I learned growing up in a beautiful place called Hinton, West Virginia, are what anchors how I manage, how I work, and what I work on,” said Burwell. You might think about what values and experience got you to GW, and are going to take you beyond,” Burwell said.

The Secretary’s remarks were broadcast live by C-SPAN, and are available online through the Milken Institute School of Public Health. Throughout her remarks, Burwell stressed working together and building relationships. “There is nothing ideological about curing cancer. There isn’t a Democratic or Republican way to stop the Ebola virus from spreading. There isn’t a liberal or conservative way to prevent suicide,” she said.

“Secretary Burwell's speech illustrated her focus on progress rather than politics,” noted undergraduate Lindsay Goodman approvingly. Seated a few feet away from the stage, Goodman felt honored to participate in this historic moment at GW. Following her official remarks, Burwell also answered questions submitted by students.

So honored to hear @SecBurwell deliver her first public speech as @HHSGov secretary #OnlyatGW

— Lindsay Goodman (@lindsaygoodman) September 8, 2014


Sam Gold, a junior at Milken Institute School of Public Health, posed his question and pre-submitted question from other students to the secretary. The Secretary elaborated on a variety of topics, including the role of prevention in health and how best to work with Congress and other governmental agencies.

Undergraduate Sam Gold asks Secretary Burwell student questions regarding prevention 

Stuart Portman, a health policy graduate student, says he jumped at the chance to submit a question for the Secretary. “I wanted to learn more about her relationships with Congress, because I also work on the senate finance committee,” says Stuart who serves as a graduate clerk on the committee while also pursuing his MPH in Health Policy. “I though her answer was the perfect way to tie in how relationships can be built and addressing that policy can’t happen unless you have a real relationship with the people you are working with.”

Read more about Burwell’s speech in a recent GW Today article or watch the full speech online.