Summer 2017

Persistence and Grit

A former FDA leader encouraged the Class of 2017 to take on the hard problems.

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Graduates of the Class of 2017 at their commencement ceremony, held on the Medford/Somerville campus on May 21. Photo: Anna Miller

While serving as the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration from 1990 to 1997, David Kessler heard his FDA colleagues warn him that taking on the tobacco industry would be “political suicide.” Still, he launched a campaign to have tobacco treated as a drug, a fight that would define his career. “It took 15 years, but eventually the president and Congress gave the FDA the authority to regulate cigarettes,” Kessler said at the 36th graduation ceremony of the Friedman School, held May 21 on Tufts’ Medford/Somerville campus.

Kessler told graduates that they can make a difference, if they persevere. “There are a few of you sitting out there who will take the big, hard, challenging problems and touch what other see as untouchable,” he said to the 117 degree recipients. To have an impact, he said, will take “persistence and grit.” Kessler served as dean of the medical schools at Yale University and the University of California at San Francisco, where he is currently a professor of pediatrics and epidemiology and biostatistics. He is also known for his best-selling books.

In his address, he told graduates that nutrition has the public’s attention, and they must make it count. “You have earned the highest privilege in life, to touch the lives of others, he said. “Your work can improve the health of all of us.”

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