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Dr. Arese Carrington, the School of Public Health (SPH) student who speaks this morning as the graduate English orator, will urge her listeners to "Defend the Defenseless"--a message she learned from her father during the Nigerian Civil War in the 1960s.
Carrington has devoted her life's work to fulfilling this maxim, earning an M.D. in 1980 and a master's degree from SPH today.
At the age of nine, Carrington witnessed firsthand the civil strife in her native Nigeria during the military regime of General Sani Abacha.
Her family split into two groups to increase the chance of survival during the Civil War. Before he said goodbye, Carrington's father told her to look out for her younger brother and sister--to "defend the defenseless."
When she speaks this morning, Carrington says she will try to give her listeners "something to latch onto," just like the message her father gave her many years ago.
And she hopes to show graduates in every field how each can contribute to this mission.
"All of us individuals who have been blessed have a role to play," Carrington says.
From the civil strife she witnessed during her childhood--which was otherwise comfortable, she says--Carrington pursued a career in medicine and became a practicing physician in 1980. In 1986, she founded and became chief executive of Health and Medical Services, an international consulting firm specializing in preventive health care in the workplace.
She had to resign from the company in 1995 because of conflicts of interest stemming from her marriage to Walter Carrington, a Harvard Law School alum who was then the American ambassador to Nigeria.
When the couple moved to the United States after Walter Carrington's ambassadorship had ended, Arese Carrington decided to reexamine her goals.
As a doctor, she was upset when patients came to her with conditions that the right public health policies could have prevented.
"I no longer felt satisfied with helping one person at a time," Carrington says. "I wanted to help populations at a time."
During her year at SPH, Carrington has studied in the Population and International Health Department and has also considered health policy management. She says Harvard was the right place for her since it excels in the field of international public health, and she has benefited from the many international students in her class.
"We've realized that to understand the issues we also have to understand the cultures we're dealing with," Carrington says. Public health policies that work well in the Western world might not be compatible with social structures in the developing world, she explains.
Carrington says that her practice at SPH in identifying the structures or policy adjustments needed to improve public health will help her, whatever she chooses to work on after graduation.
And although she has no specific plans as yet, Carrington says her career will definitely help the people in Nigeria.
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