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The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Partners in Health founder gives convocation speech

By Marissa Warden

Doctor Paul Farmer, renowned medical anthropologist and founder of Partners in Health, gave the opening convocation address on Tuesday. Accompanied by a bag piper, the faculty and MCSG president, Owen Truesdell ’11, processed into the Alexander G. Hill ballroom in Kagin with Farmer.

Following an invocation offered by Rev. Lucy Forester-Smith, Truesdell shared his observations from abroad and expressed his hope that Macalester students would be more open to conservative viewpoints in order to encourage more lively debates throughout campus.

There is a “false perception that all Macalester students are all of the same liberal mind,” Truesdell said. He called on the student body to be open-minded and thoughtful to prove that our campus is not what some have condemned as a “cocoon of liberal thought, divorced from the rest of the country.”

President Brian Rosenberg, along with Board of Trustees Chair David Deno and Provost Kathleen Murray presented Farmer with an Honorary Degree.

After Rosenberg read Farmer’s list of accomplishments, Farmer joked that it sounded like a “funeral oration” and questioned what that meant about his life. He called attention to his TB tie and flattered students and faculty when he deemed Minnesota the Siberia of the United States.

From the beginning, Farmer’s speech was aimed at Macalester students. He referenced Macalester’s commitment to internationalism, multiculturalism and service, which he said would be “glibby without substance.” He noted service projects performed by students and his experience in a first-year course he sat in on earlier that day.

In his address, Farmer told three stories beginning with his transformative years at Duke University, where he earned his B.A. He said he owes much of his present success to working in the Duke emergency room and a medical anthropology class he took as a 20 year-old.

He recalled being “enchanted by the material and encouraged to be engaged in service projects.”

Farmer discussed his observations of the science of risk-some members of society are exposed to tremendous risk while others are shielded. His experience working with migrant farmers, most of whom were Haitian, motivated him to move to Haiti before starting medical school at Harvard.

While outlining his own life path, he encouraged students not to “let anyone to tell you to study XYZ because you should do it-do what you want because you are interested in. Don’t put yourself into a track too early.”

Farmer touched on many pressing world issues, including poverty. He spoke of school-aged children in Rwanda herding cows, only to be tempted by a toy shaped land mine. This story, Farmer said, illuminated the perils of poverty, poor access to education and the residue of war. He also emphasized the great material needs necessary to effectively distribute health care everywhere.

Farmer expanded by saying that everyone needs basic social and economic rights and the particular difficulties of living in modern poverty.

“Everyone should be involved in this kind of work,” Farmer said.

He then turned his attention the Haitian earthquake and initial hesitation that Haiti would not be able to build back better, as President Clinton had proclaimed. He thanked the Macalester community for raising $18,000 for the PIH earthquake relief fund, calling it “an example of engagement with the world that is fruitful.”

He concluded with a video of a woman who had lost both of her feet during the earthquake to demonstrate the resilience of the Haitian people.

Farmer closed by thanking Macalester for “being an outward looking liberal arts college.”

“The world is counting on you,” Farmer said.

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