Gerberding, first woman to lead CDC, will address 2020 graduates

After canceled ceremony last year, alumni to return for in-person ceremonies

Washington University in St. Louis is welcoming alumni from the Class of 2020 back to campus for in-person Commencement ceremonies on May 30.

Julie L. Gerberding, MD, the first woman to serve as director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), will deliver the address to the returning graduates, Chancellor Andrew D. Martin announced in a video message to members of the class.

The university’s May 15, 2020, universitywide Commencement ceremony in Brookings Quadrangle was canceled due to public health concerns in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I couldn’t be more pleased to let this class — who frankly got the raw end of the deal last year — know that Dr. Gerberding, a world-renowned infectious disease and vaccine expert, will deliver their much-anticipated in-person Commencement address,” Martin said.

“During her tenure as the first woman to lead the CDC, Dr. Gerberding led responses to more than 40 public health crises, including the anthrax attacks in 2001, SARS and the avian influenza. When she was president of vaccines at Merck, she oversaw the planning of new vaccines and accelerating efforts to broaden access of Merck vaccines in developing countries. Dr. Gerberding has deep expertise on infectious diseases, vaccines, public health and on the COVID-19 pandemic; we are fortunate that she can share her timely perspectives with our graduates,” Martin said.

“As our 2020 graduates have learned, resiliency is an important characteristic to possess, and Dr. Gerberding has mastered it through her key leadership during many urgent crises. I trust our graduates will be inspired by Dr. Gerberding, an example of a strong, resilient leader.”

Chancellor Andrew D. Martin

“As our 2020 graduates have learned, resiliency is an important characteristic to possess, and Dr. Gerberding has mastered it through her key leadership during many urgent crises. I trust our graduates will be inspired by Dr. Gerberding, an example of a strong, resilient leader.”

Martin noted that Gerberding is no stranger to Washington University, having delivered the School of Medicine’s Commencement address while CDC director in 2008.

With guidance and approval from St. Louis regional health authorities, the university plans to hold three smaller ceremonies May 30 on Francis Olympic Field for the Class of 2020 in place of the traditional universitywide Commencement ceremony in Brookings Quadrangle. Because of limitations on gatherings and crowd sizes due to COVID-19, there will be a maximum of 500 graduates at each in-person ceremony, with two guests allowed per graduate.

For alumni who are unable to return to campus, Gerberding’s address, which she will give at all three ceremonies, will be livestreamed.

The university recognized the Class of 2020’s graduation through online ceremonies and celebrations last May, but Martin is excited to have the new alumni back to mark their graduation on campus and in person.

“I commend the Class of 2020 for their resiliency through what was an unimaginable, disappointing end to their years at Washington University,” Martin said. “While the schools and special programs did a remarkable job last May creating meaningful ways to celebrate our graduates virtually, it was no substitute for being with classmates to celebrate an important milestone together and to say proper goodbyes. I am thrilled that more than 1,330 members of the Class of 2020 are able to return to campus to do just that.”

The university also plans to hold in-person Commencement ceremonies for the Class of 2021 on May 20 and 21 on the Danforth Campus.

About Julie Gerberding, MD

Gerberding was named the first female director of the CDC in 2002 at age 46.

In announcing her appointment, then-Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said of her, “Dr. Gerberding knows public health, she knows infectious diseases, and she knows bioterrorism preparedness. She brings the right mix of professional experience and leadership skills to ensure the CDC continues to meet the nation’s public health needs.”

During her tenure as director, Gerberding led more than 40 emergency responses against crises such as anthrax, SARS, bird flu, foodborne outbreaks and natural disasters.

At the time of her appointment to lead the agency, she had been serving as part of a four-person CDC interim leadership team, where her duties included leading the CDC’s bioterrorism-related efforts. She was lauded for her response to the anthrax attacks in 2001.

Gerberding, who joined the CDC in 1998, also had served as the CDC’s acting deputy director for science and public health and as acting deputy director of the National Center for Infectious Diseases.

After stepping down as CDC director in 2009, she joined Merck & Co. Inc. in 2010 as president of vaccines and was instrumental in increasing access to the company’s vaccines to people around the world.

Today, Gerberding is executive vice president and chief patient officer at Merck, the world’s fifth-largest pharmaceutical firm. She leads all aspects of strategic communications, global public policy, population health and patient engagement.

Gerberding is deeply committed to achieving sustainable global health impact and tackling some of the most challenging health priorities of our time. This includes addressing critical issues such as affordable access to important therapies, advocating for health policies that promote and sustain innovation of new medicines and vaccines, and improving maternal health through the Merck for Mothers program — a public-private partnership helping to meet the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal to reduce maternal mortality.

She is passionate about serving patients, helping to address disparities and improve outcomes. She engages with patients and patient advocacy groups as a champion to bring their collective insights and voices into the drug development and delivery process.

Gerberding previously was a tenured faculty member in infectious diseases at the University of California, San Francisco. She continues as an adjunct associate clinical professor of medicine at UC San Francisco.

During her years in San Francisco, Gerberding was on the front lines helping patients in the early days of the HIV/AIDS crisis. She directed the Prevention Epicenter, a multidisciplinary research, training and clinical service program that focused on preventing infections in patients and their health-care providers.

She is a passionate advocate for gender parity and the advancement of women in life sciences. As the executive sponsor of the Merck Women’s Network, she mentors dozens of women both within and outside the company.

A native of Estelline, S.D., she earned both her bachelor’s degree, magna cum laude, in chemistry and biology and her medical degree from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

Gerberding completed her internship and residency in internal medicine at UC San Francisco, where she also served as chief medical resident at San Francisco General Hospital, as well as her fellowship in clinical pharmacology and infectious diseases.

She earned a master’s degree in public health from the University of California, Berkeley, where, in 2020, she was recognized as one of “Sixteen women who changed public health.”

She has received more than 50 awards and honors and was named to Forbes magazine’s “100 Most Powerful Women in the World” from 2005-08 and to Time magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in the World” in 2004.