Distinguished surgeon, professor, writer and public health researcher Atul Gawande has been chosen as the commencement speaker for the Class of 2012. Gawande will speak at the College’s 223rd Commencement on June 3. On Class Day, June 2, playwright, actor and NYU professor Anna Deavere Smith will present the Baccalaureate address.
Gawande is a leading advisor for the World Health Organization’s Safe Surgery Saves Lives program and has written three New York Times bestselling books. Smith, named “the most exciting individual in American theatre” by Newsweek, is best known for her one-woman plays about racial tensions, including Fires in the Mirror and Twilight: Los Angeles 1992.
Gawande was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1965. He spent his childhood in Athens, Ohio. He obtained a B.A.S. from Stanford, a degree in philosophy, politics and economics from Balliol College at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, an M.D. from Harvard Medical School and a Masters in public health from the Harvard School of Public Health. After graduating from Stanford, Gawande worked on Al Gore’s 1988 presidential campaign and became a healthcare researcher for Tennessee Congressman Jim Cooper. He went on to become a healthcare lieutenant during Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign.
During his residency at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Gawande wrote articles on the life of a surgical resident for Slate, an online magazine. His work caught the eye of The New Yorker, which made him a staff writer in 1998. In addition to his stories in The New Yorker, Gawande has also published Complications, which was selected as a finalist for the National Book Award in 2002; Better, which discusses the virtues of diligence and ingenuity in medicine; and The Checklist Manifesto, which focuses on the importance of organization in medicine. Each of these titles is now a New York Times bestseller.
Gawande is one of the most influential voices on healthcare reform in America and is the catalyst behind many innovative approaches to improving safety and performance in all aspects of hospital care. In 2010, Gawande was featured in the TIME 100 as No. 5 in the “thinkers” category. He was also ranked in Foreign Policy’s Top 100 Global Thinkers 2010.
Gawande currently practices general surgery and endocrine surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and serves as an associate professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Harvard School of Public Health. He lives in Newton, Mass., with his wife and three children.
Anna Deavere Smith
Smith was born in Baltimore, Md., in 1950. Over her career, she has appeared in a wide range of stage productions and films including Rachel Getting Married, Philadelphia, Rent and The American President. She has also held recurring roles on the television show Nurse Jackie, portrayed National Security Advisor Nancy McNally on The West Wing and acted in The Practice. Smith obtained a B.A. from Beaver College, now Arcadia University, and an M.F.A. in acting from the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco.
Smith’s Fires in the Mirror is an Obie Award winner and a runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize, Her play Twilight: Los Angeles 1992 also won an Obie Award and was nominated for a Tony. Smith received the MacArthur Foundation’s “genius” Fellowship in 1996, the Fletcher Foundation Fellowship in 2006, the Matrix Award from New York Women in Communications, Inc., in 2008 and a Fellow Award in Theater Arts from United States Artists in 2009.
Most recently, Smith penned Letters to a Young Artist: Straight-up Advice on Making a Life in the Arts and Let Me Down Easy, a play that opened on Off-Broadway’s Second Stage Theatre in 2009 and was broadcast on PBS this January. Smith is currently a tenured professor at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and a professor at the NYU School of Law.