Before I give you the transcript, a preface: I started this blog 4 years ago, exactly at the time when I also started medical school. In a way, my journey with The Monsoon Diaries would not have been possible without my parallel journey through medical school.
And after about 60 countries with The Monsoon Diaries, I’ve also been conferred my medical degree in my very home of New York City. Therefore, I figure it would be appropriate to mark the end of my 4 year journey of medical school by posting my graduation speech here on The Monsoon Diaries, because again, one couldn’t have existed without the other.
Thanks to Lei Zhao for all his guidance in how to write a good graduation speech.
SUNY Downstate College of Medicine Commencement, May 28, 2014.
I’m feeling nostalgic right now, this moment already becoming a memory. And I’m feeling nostalgic for the time when I was applying to medical school, the day when my pre-med advisor told us: “Look to your left, look to your right. Chances are, neither of them are going to be doctors.”
I’m feeling nostalgic for the day when I told my friend, a fellow pre-med, how I had been studying for the GREs. I remember when she furrowed her eyebrows and shook her head at me, telling me I was studying for the wrong entrance exams. This friend then got me a spot on a volunteer program in Emergency Medicine, which would become the specialty I would love and match in a few years later.
This selfless friend, Sonia, however, never got to go medical school. Something happened in the applications process that gave her no choice but to re-apply the next year. By the time the next cycle began, Sonia died from an aggressive form of breast cancer. She was 24. A vibrant, beautiful person, the very reason why I’m standing here today, was taken away from us.
Sonia‘s life and legacy remind me how from the very beginning I wouldn’t have been able to do this by myself. She was with me every step of the way. Especially when I felt most alone, I would need her the most. And everyone graduating today knows in some way what that feels like: When medicine may feel daunting, overwhelming, and at times even impossible, we must remind ourselves of the countless people who believed in us more than we did. So we share this achievement, as well as the responsibilities, with people like Sonia.
And responsibilities, there are many. The obvious one is that I hope we as superb doctors will practice superior medicine. But I also hope that we have the courage to follow our gut when something makes us feel uneasy. In memory of Maya Angelou who passed today, I quote: “Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency.” Medicine is a noble practice, but it is not perfect. It can be good, but it is not always fair. We must remind ourselves of this as we labor to improve our shared practice. Hippocrates himself would accept nothing less than a continuous desire to expand, deepen, and transmit our knowledge as healers.
And as we continue to grow and learn as doctors, we will confront situations that force us to think of the world in terms that aren’t simply black or white, right or wrong. We thus must strive to find beauty in the gray area, and revel in the nuances and complexities that make medicine an art. It is never simple, but simple is not what we signed up for.
So while in medical school they’ve taught us to think like doctors, I hope we also don’t forget to think like human beings. Because in the end, the practice of medicine is a deeply personal and human experience. It is a delicate and demanding art where the end result of medicine practiced well Is a renewed life for our patients, free from the pain, suffering, fear, and anxiety that any illness may burden us with.
I also hope we will feel it incumbent upon us to treat even the non-biological issues of the world, identifying ourselves not only as doctors after today, but also as activists, peacemakers, statesmen, ambassadors, innovators, philosophers, or engineers. And above all, that we become artists, always pushing the limits and our dreams of what medicine can accomplish.
And I never thought about how dreams could be made real until I met people like Sonia who shared in that dream with me. As we celebrate the fulfillment of another dream today, I know that we will carry our achievements onwards with the everlasting support of others. Our achievements are theirs. And on that note, our achievements are also each other’s.
To my classmates — “Look to your left, look to your right”: we’re all doctors today because we did this together.
And with my speech already a memory, I salute my colleagues here on a bright future of making a difference at every level of society.
Let’s go make this world a better place. Congratulations.
– At time of posting in New York City, it was 53.6 °F –
Humidity: 30% | Wind Speed: 4km/hr | Cloud Cover: partly cloudy