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 70 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.
Wednesday, May 28, 2014
09:00 AM EST
SUNY Downstate College of Medicine Commencement, May 28, 2014.
I’m feeling nostalgic for right now, this moment already becoming a memory. And I’m feeling nostalgic for the time when I was applying to medical school, my pre-med advisor told us: “Look to your left. Now look to your right. Chances are, neither of them is going to be a doctor.”
I’m feeling even nostalgic for the day when I felt deeply uncertain whether I’d be one of the few who made it, and so, looking for reassurance, I turned to a fellow pre-med friend and told her how hard I’d been studying for the GRE. She furrowed her brow and shook her head. “Med students take the MCAT. You’re prepping for the wrong test.
I was definitely not reassured, but I was grateful. That same friend later helped me get a spot in an emergency medicine volunteer program at Bellevue Hospital Center, an experience that led me to choose emergency medicine as my specialty.
She is not here today. My generous friend, Sonia, who made sure I studied for the correct exam for medical school, died from an aggressive form of breast cancer at the age of twenty-four. She never got to go medical school. She was vibrant and beautiful, and she’s the reason why I’m standing here today.
Sonia’s life and legacy remind me that, from the very beginning, I could not have done this on my own. Even since we lost her, she has been with me every step of the way — especially when I have felt most alone. Everyone graduating today knows what that feels like in some way. When our vocation as healers feels daunting, overwhelming, at times even impossible, we remind ourselves of the countless people who have believed in us more than we ourselves have believed.
We share today’s achievement, and its responsibilities, with loved ones 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 happened to have passed today, we honor her with a 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. Let us keep its shortcomings in mind as we labor to improve our shared practice. Hippocrates himself would accept nothing less than a continuous desire to expand, deepen, and pass on our knowledge and craft.
As we continue to grow and learn as doctors, we will confront situations that force us to assess and diagnose the world in terms that aren’t simply black or white, right or wrong. We must therefore strive to find beauty and meaning in gray areas, and revel in the nuances and complexities that make medicine not just a science but also an art.
It is rarely simple, but simple is not what we signed up for.
In medical school they taught us to think like doctors, but I hope we never forget how also to think and feel like human beings. Because for all its rigorous standards and exacting procedures, the practice of medicine is a deeply personal and human endeavor. It is a delicate and demanding art at the end of which, when well-practiced, is renewed life and freedom from suffering and fear for our patients.
I also hope we will identify ourselves after today not only as doctors, but also as activists, peacemakers, states-people, ambassadors, innovators, philosophers, or engineers. Moreover, I hope we will identify as artists, continually pushing the limits of our imagination, expanding the boundaries of our dreams about what good medicine can do.
My fellow graduates, “look to your left. Now look to your right.” Each of those incredible people is a doctor. Sonia and I shared the dream that all of us are fulfilling here today. And while she cannot be here with us in person to revel in our shared achievement, I believe we’re only here because it’s a dream she, I . . . we shared. Today and from now on we are doctors because we did this . . . together.
Now with my speech already nostalgia and memory, I salute my colleagues here on a 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 12 °C - Humidity: 30% | Wind Speed: 4km/hr | Cloud Cover: partly cloudy