It’s not always comfortable being a person committed to what others see as an impossible goal, Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) Dean Julio Frenk told graduates at the School’s 2014 Commencement ceremony.

He spoke from experience. When Frenk was Mexico’s minister of health from 2000 to 2006 and attempting what some thought was “impossible”—expanding health coverage to all citizens—he accidentally saw an email from a high-ranking colleague that said, in essence, “The minister has lost his marbles. How does he think he can insure those 50 million people?”

But the ambitious goal was achieved: Today, Mexico’s universal coverage program, Seguro Popular, covers 58 million people—“my colleague’s doubts notwithstanding,” Frenk said.

The dean urged the graduates—who have the unique distinction of being members of HSPH’s Centennial graduating class—to do their own “impossible” work: “nothing less than changing the world.”

At the Commencement ceremony, held on a sunny afternoon before an overflow crowd in a tent in Kresge courtyard, 537 degrees were awarded: 33 doctors of philosophy, 56 doctors of science, 264 masters of public health, 176 masters of science, and 8 masters of arts. Graduates came from 63 countries and from 43 U.S. states. Fifty-eight percent of the graduates were women. At a festive reception the evening before Commencement, awards were presented to 23 students, seven faculty, and two staff members.

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