State Deparment's Lois Quam '83 chosen as this year's commencement speaker

By Emma WestRasmus

Lois Quam ’83, Executive Director of the U.S. State Department’s Global Health Initiative, has been selected as this year’s commencement speaker, and will deliver her address to graduating seniors on May 14. The GHI was created by President Obama with the aim to strengthen health systems to save lives worldwide. Prior to her post in the State Department, Quam created and chaired Tysvar, LLC, a Minnesota-based green economy and heath care reform organization, and has also served as a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. In 2006 Quam was named by Fortune magazine as one of America’s “50 Most Powerful Women.”

“I think Lois is a wonderful choice,” President Brian Rosenberg said in an email. “She has moved from Macalester to being a leader in a variety of settings: health care, business, public service. Her current work as Executive Director of the Department of State’s Global Health Initiative, where she reports directly to Secretary of State Clinton, is perhaps the clearest embodiment of her commitment to the values of the college.”

Health care issues have long been a central focus of Quam’s career. In 1989, Quam was tapped by the governor of Minnesota to chair the Minnesota Health Care Access Commission, and in 1993, she served as a senior advisor to then-First Lady Clinton’s task force on health care reform. In 2007, Quam served as the president and CEO of the Public and Senior Markets segment at UnitedHealth Group, a $30 billion division which she helped create and run. In this position she oversaw Medicare and Medicaid-based businesses with nearly ten million members and serving one-out-of-five Medicare beneficiaries.

However, some seniors said they were frustrated by the fact the senior’s choices for commencement speaker were overlooked in the ultimate selection. The administration solicited senior opinions in the fall, which yielded nominees such as Tim O’Brien ’68, Wangari Mathaai and Dan Savage, but did not choose any of the student suggestions.

“The whole thing was pretty disrespectful,” said Michael Freedman ’11 of the lack of senior input in the final selection. “As a class deserved to pick our graduation speaker, and so even if the administration thought they had a better pick they should have differed to us.”

Quam is the wife of Matt Entenza ’83, a former Minnesota state representative and candidate for governor in 2010. She graduated magna cum laude from Mac, was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, and was the recipient of Macalester’s Distinguished Alumni Award. As a Rhodes Scholar, Quam went on to earn a master’s degree in philosophy, politics and economics at the University of Oxford in England.