YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – The former director of the Ohio Department of Health, who grew up in Youngstown, returned to the Valley on Thursday as the commencement speaker at her alma mater’s graduation.

Dr. Amy Acton guided Ohio through the first three months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thursday evening, Dr. Acton walked onto the Stambaugh Auditorium stage, where she would be the Liberty High School commencement speaker and where, in 1984, she graduated from Liberty High School.

“It was just a little while ago, 38 years ago, that I was in this very building,” she said.

Dr. Acton talked with WKBN before commencement in an area where the graduates had gathered.

“There’s no food like home. It’s beautiful here. It will always, always be home for me,” she said.

“Remember that anyone might be carrying the disease” — this was how Ohio and Youngstown were introduced to Dr. Acton. She was the state’s health director when COVID-19 began.

Her daily news conferences had most of Ohio tuning in to watch. Three months after the pandemic began, facing pressure because of Ohio’s lockdowns, she resigned.

“I couldn’t be more proud of Ohio. I think we were very fortunate. We came out and we told the truth as we knew it,” she said.

Now, two years after COVID-19 started, Dr. Acton is not surprised it’s still around.

“The New York Times analyzed my seven weeks of press conferences and I believe I mentioned two years more, and that was the hard thing. It was very hard to tell the truth that our life would not be quite the same,” she said.

Dr. Acton has a lot of faith in the students graduating from high school, referring to them as “Generation C,” for COVID-19 and chaos.

“They’ve been so resilient and compassionate and caring. They’re collaborators, they’re change agents and they have the hard conversations. We can still have those hard conversations and respect the humanity of one another,” she said.

Dr. Acton still lives around Columbus, where she now runs a non-profit called Rapid 5, which stands for Rivers And Parks, Imagination and Design. She’s working to create 145 miles of an integrated park system, built around the five major rivers that run through the Columbus area.