The Department of Health and Nutrition Sciences is Delighted to Share the Keynote Address by Renny L. John, MPH, Brooklyn College Class of 2018 from Our 2020 Awards Ceremony and Commencement Celebration

Renny L. John, MPH; Brooklyn College, HNSC, Class of 2018

Renny L. John, MPH; Brooklyn College, HNSC, Class of 2018

Thank you for that warm welcome, Faculty, Family, and Friends of our Graduates and, most importantly, the 2020 graduating class of Health and Nutrition Sciences. I am delighted to be here with you at this graduation and awards ceremony. My name is Renny John, and I graduated from Brooklyn College in 2018. I am particularly humbled by the honor bestowed upon me to share remarks as well as this fantastic day with you, your friends, and families. Being here today is honestly one of the high points of my life. Because at my graduation ceremony two years ago, I would never have imagined that I would be granted the privilege of talking to a dynamic graduating class on this momentous occasion. Congratulations on our achievement.

Before I start, I want to make a few acknowledgments. First off, I want to shout out my son Jared who celebrated his 12th Birthday last Thursday. From age 3 to the present, he has been next to me throughout my academic journey— from my associate degree at Bronx Community College and Kingsborough Community College, my bachelor’s degree at Brooklyn College, and during my master’s degree, Jared, Daddy loves you. Next, let us take a moment to acknowledge the tens of thousands of people in the United States and internationally who have died from complications due to coronavirus, the imposed necessary isolation has deprived the grieving of a proper farewell; we cannot visit homes of friends and family members or attend a funeral Mass or gravesite. All we can do is recall the beautiful memories these people have left with us.

By this time, you may have heard/noticed my accent, and yes, I am Trini, if you cannot understand what I am saying translators are standing by. Just use the chat feature at the bottom of the screen.

So, I will share a little bit about myself. My academic journey did not start well. I started at BMCC Borough of Manhattan Community College in Spring 2000. I enrolled, went to a few classes, received my financial aid check, went shopping, and never really went back to most of my classes. My grades for that semester were Business 200: F Health Education 100 F Speech 100: F English 95: Satisfactory—That ladies and gentlemen is the blueprints on how to get a 0.0 GPA. Yet, I had no idea how much impact that one semester would have on my education going forward. I am sure most of you know it is harder to clean up your GPA than your credit score. After that debacle, I wiped school from my memory and started working on Wall Street. I was successful, but then in 2008, the economy crashed, and I was left searching for myself again, I lost my job. Every job I applied for rejected me because I did not have a degree, and I had a new baby on the way. It was not a great situation for my family and me. My son came prematurely into this world on May 21, 2008, and spent an extra nine months in the hospital. It was just a struggle to get anything done, and as a parent, you always want the best for your child, and I felt like I had failed him before he even learned how to talk and walk.

In fall 2011, I decided to go back to school, and I started at Bronx Community College as an International affairs major. I chose that major because I wanted to become a diplomat and be cool like James Bond. I think back to that time and was like, “Renny, what were you thinking.” That semester was where I also got my first taste of public health; I was killing it in my Health 101 class—It was the on-course I had an A in I started doing more and more research about the field, and eventually, said this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I went to my professor Dr. Janet Heller and told her I want to change my major to health, and she was more excited than me about the switch over. She said that this field needed more diversity and explained to me the benefits of being an African American man in Public Health.

Most importantly, I had finally completed a semester of school, and to me, that was the most significant achievement. I had finally figured out the “SCHOOL THING.” I cannot ever remember being this happy with a 1.7 GPA, especially recalling that I had a 0.0 GPA before. You could not tell me anything about my 1.7 GPA.

However, that happiness would soon come to an end. A few weeks later, I lost my apartment in Harlem during my birthday week in January. I was homeless, my son lived with his mom, so it did not impact him. For a few nights, I would sleep on the number two train from Flatbush Avenue to 110th street, cross the platform and sleep from 110th street to Flatbush Ave. I would do that until it was time for me to watch my son. However, with all that going on, I was still a parent, and this time remained a student because I know the benefits of being great at both.

Fast-forward to present today; I earned an Assoc of Science from Kingsborough Community College, Bachelor of Science in Health and Nutrition Sciences with a concentration in Public Health from Brooklyn College, and a Master of Public Health from Cornell University, and I have a healthy and very expensive 12-year-old boy. As students in the Health and Nutrition Sciences Program and Brooklyn College, you have been afforded the privilege of being educated at one of the most prestigious academic institutions in the country, but as health professionals in these trying times, you have also been charged with the responsibility of protecting those less privileged. As a resident of NYC, I have lived through 9/11, two recessions, and now a pandemic. We have lost friends, family, coworkers to this pandemic, but that should also reassure you that the academic and professional path you chose as a graduate of this program is a much needed one. I remember I was in Professor Greene’s Health Communication class, and the topic of Public Health students being Allied Professionals came up, and she said I do not like the term allied professionals. You guys are going out into this world to be leaders and run health programs and save lives. You are not just Allies, and I want to echo the very same sentiment to this 2020 graduating class. You are leaders; importantly, each of you are essential in helping us in advancing a healthier way of life.

So, I wish to end with one of my favorite quotes:

“No matter how hard it gets, stick your chest out, keep your head up and handle it.”
From the late, great Tupac Shakur (Me Against the World)