COVID-19 has caused fear, grief, upheaval and loneliness; it has also led us to appreciate compassion, resilience, selflessness and adaptability. It has laid bare the social inequalities that too many people live with day in and day out, pandemic or not, and it has caused us, as individuals and as societies, to think more deeply about the balance between self-determination and interdependence, individual freedoms and responsibility to the common good.

In this series of live-streamed conversations, esteemed alumni and friends of the College will discuss current and future impacts of the public health crisis within the United States and globally. Audience members may submit live questions for the Q&A portion of each conversation.

Harold Varmus '61, M.D., co-recipient of the 1989 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for studies of the genetic basis of cancer, joined the Meyer Cancer Center of Weill Cornell Medicine as the Lewis Thomas University Professor of Medicine in April, 2015. He is also a senior associate member of the New York Genome Center, where he helps to develop programs in cancer genomics, and an adjunct professor at the Macaulay Honors College at the City University of New York. Previously, Dr. Varmus was director of the National Cancer Institute for five years, president of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center for 10 years and director of the National Institutes of Health for six years.

A graduate of Amherst College and Harvard University in English literature and of Columbia University in medicine, he was further trained at Columbia University Medical Center, the National Institutes of Health and the University of California, San Francisco, before becoming a member of the UCSF basic science faculty for over two decades. He is a member of the U.S. National Academies of Sciences and Medicine, is involved in several initiatives to promote science and health in developing countries, and serves on advisory groups for several academic, governmental, philanthropic and commercial institutions. His current positions include co-chair of the Mayor’s LifeSciNYC initiative and member of advisory boards for Chan-Zuckerberg Science, the Broad and Crick Institutes, the global health program at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and four biotechnology companies (Surrozen, Dragonfly, PetraPharma, and Volastra).

The author of about 400 scientific papers and five books, including a 2009 memoir entitled The Art and Politics of Science, Varmus was a co-chair of President Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, a co-founder and chair of the board of the Public Library of Science, and chair of the scientific board of the Gates Foundation Grand Challenges in Global Health.

David A. Kessler '73, M.D. is professor of pediatrics and epidemiology and professor of biostatistics at the School of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco. He previously served as dean of the schools of medicine at UCSF and Yale University.

Dr. Kessler served as commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration from November 1990 until March 1997, appointed by President George H.W. Bush and reappointed by President Bill Clinton. As commissioner of the FDA, he acted to speed approval of new drugs and placed high priority on getting promising therapies for serious and life-threatening diseases to patients as quickly as possible. According to The New York Times, Kessler “revitalized a beleaguered agency that had become mired in bureaucratic disarray.” The Los Angeles Times praised him for “restor[ing] the Food and Drug Administration to what it was meant to be--an aggressive advocate for the public’s health.”

Dr. Kessler’s books Capture: Unraveling the Mystery of Mental Suffering (2016) and The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite (2009) were New York Times best-sellers. His latest book is Fast Carbs, Slow Carbs: The Simple Truth About Food, Weight, and Disease (2020). Kessler serves on the board of various organizations, including as chair of the board of Science in the Public Interest, and has been an Amherst College trustee. He is a member of the National Academy of Medicine and the recipient of the 2001 National Academy of Sciences Public Welfare Medal. His other honors have included the American Cancer Society’s Medal of Honor, the American Heart Association’s National Public Affairs Special Recognition Award, the American Federation for AIDS Research Sheldon W. Andelson Public Policy Achievement Award, the American Academy of Pediatrics Excellence in Public Service Award, the March of Dimes Franklin Delano Roosevelt Leadership Award, the Jacobs Institute of Women’s Health Excellence in Women’s Health Award and the “2008 National Hero” award from the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley.

Shirley M. Tilghman H'08 was elected Princeton University’s 19th president on May 5, 2001, after serving on the Princeton faculty for 15 years. Upon the completion of her term in June of 2013, she returned to the faculty. During her scientific career as a mammalian developmental geneticist, she studied the way in which genes are organized in the genome and regulated during early development, and was one of the founding members of the National Advisory Council of the Human Genome Project for the National Institutes of Health.

Tilghman is an Officer of the Order of Canada, and has received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society for Developmental Biology, the Genetics Society of America Medal and the L’Oreal-UNESCO Award for Women in Science. She is a member of the American Philosophical Society, the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Medicine and The Royal Society of London. She serves as a trustee of Amherst College, the Institute for Advanced Study and the Simons Foundation. She serves on the Science Advisory Board of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, is a director of The Broad Institute of MIT, and is a Fellow of the Corporation of Harvard College.

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