President of CARE USA to speak at Rice’s 2014 commencement

Dr. Helene Gayle will address graduates in May

Dr. Helene Gayle, president and CEO of the global poverty-fighting organization CARE USA, will be Rice University’s commencement speaker for 2014.

CARE’s mission is to serve individuals and families in the poorest communities in the world. Gayle has led the organization since 2006, and last year CARE’s programs reached 122 million people in 84 countries.

Dr. Helene Gayle

“Once more we could not be more delighted with our students’ choice of a commencement speaker,” Rice President David Leebron said. “As a doctor and public health professional, Helene Gayle was a global leader in the fight against HIV/AIDS, dedicated to improving lives around the world through public service. For the last seven years as president and CEO of CARE USA, she has set the standard for leadership in the fight against poverty and the empowerment of girls and women. She is a great example to our students of what one person can accomplish, and I am very much looking forward to her inspirational remarks at our commencement next spring.”

CARE was founded in 1945 to provide relief to survivors of World War II. The organization continues to deliver emergency aid to survivors of war and natural disasters, but its special focus is on working alongside poor women who, if equipped with the proper resources, have the power to help whole families and entire communities escape poverty. CARE’s community-based efforts include improving basic education, preventing the spread of disease, increasing access to clean water and sanitation, expanding economic opportunity and protecting natural resources.

Under Gayle’s leadership, CARE has strengthened its focus on long-term impact and increased policy and advocacy efforts. Gayle has leveraged the power of CARE’s corporate and nongovernment organization partners to significantly expand CARE’s reach throughout the world. Headquartered in Atlanta, CARE has approximately 10,000 staff members and has become one of the world’s largest private international humanitarian organizations.

Gayle, who has an M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania and a master’s in public health from Johns Hopkins University, is an expert on health, global development and humanitarian issues. Before joining CARE, she spent 20 years with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where she worked primarily on HIV/AIDS, and then at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, where she directed programs on HIV/AIDS and other global health issues. Named one of Forbes’ “100 Most Powerful Women,” Foreign Policy magazine’s “Top 100 Global Thinkers” and Newsweek’s top 10 “Women in Leadership,” Gayle currently serves on the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships and the U.S. Department of State’s Foreign Affairs Policy Board. She is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the American Public Health Association, the Institute of Medicine and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Born and raised in Buffalo, N.Y., Gayle also has a B.A. in psychology from Barnard College.
“I was thrilled to accept President Leebron’s invitation to speak at the 2014 commencement,” Gayle said. “Rice is a pre-eminent institution of higher education and research. I admire the university’s innovative programs, particularly those that bring life-saving health technologies to the world’s most vulnerable children. I’m honored to play a part in sending another class of Owls out into the world and be a part of their special day.”

Rob Griffin, professor of civil and environmental engineering, who served as adviser for the Commencement Speaker Committee, said Gayle met the students’ standards for a commencement speaker. “The committee sought an entertaining and energetic speaker, someone whose accomplishments are both impressive and inspirational and an individual who reflects the diversity of the Rice community,” he said. “Dr. Gayle fits these criteria perfectly, and the members of the committee are delighted that she accepted Rice’s invitation.”

Members of the Commencement Speaker Committee included graduate student John King, undergraduate students Andrew Amis, Shaan Patel, Allison Raven, Mason Sanders and Catherine Yuh and adviser David Vassar, senior assistant to the president.

Rice’s 101st commencement will be held May 17.

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About B.J. Almond

B.J. Almond is senior director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.