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WOW2023 - The Wisdom of Wellness Mental Health Summit was held at Royce Hall at UCLA with special guest Oprah Winfrey and host Lisa Kudrow.  Joining Oprah in conversation about the importance of mental health were:  US Surgeon General Dr Vivek Murthy; Best-selling author, Harvard Professor, and Atlantic Columnist, Dr. Arthur Brooks; Grammy and Oscar winner, Jon Batiste; and a panel of UCLA students: Meera Varma, Dr. Tashalee Brown, and Reilly Chin.  500 local high school and UCLA students attended as our guests.  The event honored philanthropists, Andrea and Peter Roth.  Funds raised from #WOW supported the UCLA Friends of the Semel Institute Research Scholar Grants and the UCLA Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital Board of Advisors Clinical Innovation Grants.

Oprah Winfrey

To shine a light on the vitally important topic of mental health, Oprah joined UCLA’s WOW2023 – The Wisdom of Wellness Mental Health Summit on May 4, 2023 at UCLA’s Royce Hall.  The event was sponsored by UCLA’s Friends of the Semel Institute and the Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital Board of Advisors and honored philanthropists, Andrea and Peter Roth.

Oprah's guests: US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy; Harvard professor, best-selling author, and columnist at The Atlantic, Arthur Brooks; Grammy and Oscar winner, Jon Batiste; and a panel of UCLA students, talked about the importance of caring for our mental health, disconnection, loneliness, and happiness. The host for the festivities was actor Lisa Kudrow who is a member of the Resnick Board. 

“Mental health is the defining public health crisis of our time”, Dr. Vivek Murthy, told the nearly sold-out audience that included a cheering crowd of 500 students from UCLA and local high schools.  To emphasize the importance of this issue, he recently issued a new advisory on the epidemic of loneliness and isolation that is plaguing America.  Dr. Murthy went on to say that we all need social connection and community to combat loneliness and “we all have the power to help each other heal just by being present.”

Oprah expressed the need for all of us to give and receive validation.  It’s a basic human requirement that she’s seen in everyone who she’s interviewed, from Beyonce to President Obama,  “They all want to know afterward “Was I okay?  Was I enough”.  Dr. Murthy added, “We all want to be seen and understood.   We often need somebody in our life who can check on us - who can remind us of who we are when we forget.” 

The panel of UCLA students shared the unique mental health challenges of their generation and the teen mental health crisis plaguing our youth today.  Meera Varma, a UCLA graduate student who has been a mental health advocate since her own struggles with mental health started at age 14, told the audience that “suicide is the second leading cause of death of young people ages 10-14 and 20-34, according to statistics by the CDC.”  She also described the coping mechanisms she’s learned that have helped her, including having a very supportive mother.  

Dr. Arthur Brooks, who has just co-authored a new book with Oprah, talked about happiness and how to find it, “Happiness is Love - Full Stop.”  

To wrap up the day, Grammy and Oscar winner Jon Batiste spoke with Oprah about how music was one way he connected with his wife while she battled cancer, writing her lullabies.  When Oprah asked what advice Batiste had for the students in the audience, he said, “You got something that only you can do.  That’s what’s amazing in the ideal of failure in general.  A failure doesn’t really exist because the story continues.  I encourage you to opt out of that cycle that is not going to produce the best version of yourself.”

With that, Batiste sat down at the grand piano and treated the audience to a fabulous and memorable performance. 

UCLA Students
Arthur C. Brooks
Jeanie Buss
Vivek Murthy
Jon Batiste
Full Program
WOW 2023 Photos

“The real kicker, in my opinion, was Dr. Vivek Murthy who talked about the science behind loneliness.” Chris J. ‘24, shared. Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, Surgeon General of the United States, stole the show in many ways, making a profound impact with his insights into loneliness. He reminded us that the death toll of loneliness is high; about as dangerous as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. He went on to say, “A friend is someone who reminds you of who you are when you forget.” His words helped Geffen Academy students rediscover their friendships, both inside and outside of our building. 



For teens at Geffen Academy, issues surrounding mental health can be especially important. Cameron M. ‘25, expressed, “I learned that we’re reaching a time socially where we’re able to bridge mental health as an issue that intersects someone’s personal experience and the greater medical community, which is a great development.”

In the words of the Surgeon General of the United States, “We have the power to help each other heal,” and it is obvious that this is something that Geffen Academy students will keep in mind as we support each other's mental health throughout our community.


“It was a great validation of Geffen’s Wellness program,” said Deivis D. ‘26 an attendee of the mental health gathering at UCLA last week. “A lot of the things that were presented at the summit are integrated into our wellness curriculum, and I think that was really wonderful to see. We are really learning, frankly, cutting edge stuff.” As you may have read in the last issue of this news bulletin, the WOW Mental Health Summit, held Thursday, May 4, was sponsored by the Friends of the Semel Institute and the Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital Board of Advisors. Participants listened to Oprah Winfrey talk to the Surgeon General of the United States, various students from UCLA who had experienced their own mental health challenges, and world-class experts on mental health. Students also enjoyed a brief performance from Grammy winner Jon Batiste. As they listened to the various speakers, many students were struck by the power of their words, connecting what they heard with their own lives.


Nora O. ‘24, reflected on her favorite speaker, Arthur C. Brooks. Brooks is the William Henry Bloomberg Professor of the Practice of Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School, and Professor of Management Practice at the Harvard Business School. He talked about his own class at Harvard on the science of happiness. Nora enthused, “Acknowledging that everyone, no matter if they are the surgeon general or a junior in college, all have struggles with their mental health and are open to sharing their stories with us.”

Miranda D-P. ‘25, was enlightened by speakers at the summit, remarking, “I had believed I already knew a lot about mental health, but going to that summit really opened my eyes more and made me understand more in depth how important mental health is”

Students’ Minds Blown By WOW Mental Health Summit

By the Student Journalism Staff of the Geffen Academy Reader