Michael Botticelli, the game-changing director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) under President Barack Obama, delivered the 2019 commencement address at the Hazelden Betty Ford Graduate School of Addiction Studies in Center City, Minnesota, on April 18. The ceremony marked the Graduate School's 20th commencement exercises. Botticelli, pictured here with 2019 graduate John Solomon and who notably opted to be called the "Recovery Czar" rather than the "Drug Czar" during his tenure, was the first person in long-term recovery to hold the influential White House post. He was also the first person with a public health background to lead the ONDCP, and he is credited for his success in shifting the Office's focus beyond law enforcement and interdiction to addiction prevention, treatment and recovery solutions. Today Botticelli serves as the executive director of the Grayken Center for Addiction at Boston Medical Center. Noting that "there is no higher calling" and "no more noble a profession," Botticelli opened his commencement address with praise for addiction counseling professionals: "The people like you, who have undertaken this work, not to get rich, not for prestige, but for the selfless act of helping another human being." Changing Public Perceptions Sharing data from a recent survey conducted by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Massachusetts, Botticelli noted that only one in four people believes addiction is a disease, and most people believe addiction is a choice. These widely held misperceptions have devastating consequences. "For far too long we have viewed people with addiction as weak-willed, morally faulted—in essence, bad people with serious character defects," Botticelli said. "And our response to those people has been reflected in those attitudes. The vast majority of people in our jails and prisons are a stark example of those attitudes." Beyond the criminal justice system, negative stereotypes and perceptions attached to addiction pervade all of society, he added. "The disease of addiction and the people it has affected have been pushed to the side—moved to the margins of our society. And you know what I mean by 'those people': the 'addicts,' the 'junkies.' I've heard doctors say they didn't want to deal with 'those people' in our waiting room," Botticelli shared. He reminded graduates that they are agents of change, and that "those people" who have been marginalized by the disease of addiction are the very people graduates "now have the skills to serve." Our Stories Matter Botticelli also shared the stories of two young people whose lives were tragically impacted by the opioid epidemic. First, he described a vibrant young woman who enjoyed a happy childhood, excelled as a high school athlete, and was the epitome of a loving sister and daughter—a young woman who died at age 20, left alone by friends in an abandoned yard when she overdosed on heroin. He then spoke about a young man whose father and brother died from opioid overdose, a young man who battled his own opioid use disorder since age 14. But the young man survived a heroin overdose after receiving Naloxone—and, today, trains others in his community to administer the lifesaving anti-overdose medication. Far more than facts and figures, stories of human struggle and triumph stay with people, Botticelli offered—and personal stories can make all the difference in effecting change and influencing public policy. "Science and data alone are insufficient to drive public policy," Botticelli recalled a close advisor telling him, "People drive public policy, and our stories matter." He offered his own story as a case on point. "So, 30 years ago if you would have told me I would have been the President's advisor on drug policy, I would have said you were crazy. But I was chosen, not just because of what's in my head, but because of what's in my heart, and because of what I've conquered in my life, because I have lived the challenges that I was charged to solve." Recovery Is Contagious Botticelli went on to talk about another recovery pioneer, William White, paraphrasing the author's concept of "recovery carriers"—people who make recovery infectious to those around them by the openness about their own recovery experiences, the quality of their life in recovery, and their compassion for and service to people still suffering from alcohol and drug problems. Botticelli challenged graduates to be "recovery carriers" and to encourage others to join in what he described as a "growing and unstoppable movement." "People in recovery, and those who love us, are refusing to live in the shadows. We are and will continue to change hearts and minds by the simple act of being honest and open about who we are, what our struggles were and how we overcame them. Thirty years into recovery, I find it almost impossible not to be moved by someone in recovery's story." In urging graduates to "lead with your heart," Botticelli's final remarks were inspired by Harvey Milk, a monumental figure in the GLBT community's fight for equal rights. "Harvey said the only thing people have to look forward to is hope—and you have to give them hope. Hope for a better world. Hope for a better tomorrow. Hope for a better place to come home to. Hope that it will be all right." Equipped with the knowledge, compassion and skills to most effectively help people overcome addiction, members of the 2019 graduating class are truly agents of change and ambassadors of hope.