Welcome graduates, faculty, family members, and friends. I am extremely humbled to be here representing the graduating class of 2017. It is a tremendous privilege to deliver this year’s commencement address and I want to thank my classmates for selecting me. Though to be honest, I wish I had taken a beta-blocker before this because between Diandra’s 6 siblings and Tim’s triplets, we have a packed stadium.
I think that we can all agree that regardless of where we were in our lives when we started medical school, we have experienced more in the last four years than most people do in a lifetime. The first two years were dedicated to didactics, where we learned the science of medicine. We drudged through FML—I mean FMS—, organ systems, and gross anatomy. And we amassed an impressive collection of 8-pound binders of notes that are no doubt collecting dust in the back of all our closets. We sat through endless lectures and webcasts, and wondered if we’d ever see the light at the end of the tunnel. I think at some point we tackled infamous step 1 studying, but I’ve honestly all but blocked that out of my memory so I can’t really say for sure.
Then came third year and fourth year, our clinical years, and the first time that we felt we deserved our short white coats. We finally began to think of ourselves as student-doctors and got a glimpse into the art of medicine. We delivered babies, got yelled at for breaking sterile field in the OR (at least I did a bunch of times), and did way too many DREs for anyone’s liking.
The heart of our clinical years was rotating at the LA County Hospital. This institution is actually one of the main reasons why I chose to come to USC for medical school because we had the unique privilege of treating everyone that walked through the door regardless of who they were or where they came from. As students here, we were in the trenches of medicine, learning to advocate for the impoverished and to treat the marginalized with dignity. We witnessed the wide spectrum of the human experience, challenging our preconceived notions and introducing ethical complexities that have left us pondering long after the rotation was done. Working here has formed a foundation in each and every one of us that we will no doubt continue to build on in the years to come.
From ICM to MDL to NBME to ERAS to NRMP, we’ve mastered every combination of letters known to man over the last four years. But the biggest take away for me over our time together is the compassion and inherent kindness that characterizes you, my classmates.
Our class has seen more tragedy in the past two years than anyone should experience; we are missing two integral members of the Class of 2017 today, and I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge them. Sean and Colin will forever be entwined in the fabric of our class; their immediate physical presence is missed, especially today. The camaraderie and support we showed one another, the strength of their friends and loved ones, and the persistence to proceed despite heartbreak are some of the many reasons why I am proud to say that I am a member of the Keck graduating class of 2017.
This empathy is something that I hope we will all carry forth in our careers and that we continue to care for our future colleagues and patients with the same respect that we have demonstrated for each other. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity. After all, the practice of medicine is rooted in understanding the human experience and using that knowledge to alleviate suffering. We are healers first and scientists second.
Whatever specialty you are pursuing, I encourage you to look at your patient as a whole, a novel in progress that you can help craft instead of focusing on the individual chapter of their life that relates to your particular field of medicine. The best doctors that I’ve observed, regardless of specialty, look at the psychosocial dynamics of their patients and they listen to their stories. Through cultivating trust they succeed in delivering treatment, and thus find daily satisfaction with their career. Every person you encounter has something to teach you. We should all strive to see our patients as people first and diseases second.
The trust that our patients and their families put in us cannot be understated. I am hopeful that we will continue to have the moral courage to do no harm, to put the patient’s best interest first, and to treat them as we would our family members. In an age where insurance companies, lawyers, and bureaucrats increasingly permeate the practice of medicine, I hope that we will be resolute in our reasons for pursuing this noble profession. There are very few careers where you can wake up every single day and take pride in knowing that that will spend your life helping others during their most vulnerable time.
But also remember that compassion extends beyond the hospitals walls and should also be directed inwards. Find balance even through the most grueling parts of your career; seek out moments of peace within the whirlwind of texture of your busy life. Learn to forgive yourself for your imperfections and, if there’s one thing you remember from this speech, it’s to find solace and support in your loved ones.
And to our loved ones, I want to say thank you. This day is as much yours as it is ours. Your unwavering support, constant encouragement, and sacrifices both financially and emotionally are as–if not more–valuable in helping us get to where we are today. Thank you for believing in us and our dreams.
I know I couldn’t be here without the support of my parents. Like many immigrants they struggled through poverty when they first came to this country, never losing hope, and ultimately succeeding through hard work and perseverance. I am where I am today because I stood on the shoulders of giants, giants who made countless sacrifices so that I could have every opportunity available. I know many of my classmates feel the same way when thinking about their loved ones and the sacrifices that they have made to get them here.
I want to give a special shout-out to my mom, who not only works as a successful Family Medicine physician, but somehow managed to take me, a child who couldn’t tell her left from right for an embarrassingly long time, and somehow raised me to become a physician and productive member of society. So thanks mom, you’re proof that miracles happen, and this speech is maybe proof that I don’t have to buy you anything for mother’s day tomorrow.
But in all seriousness, I am very honored to be graduating with the best class in the history of the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California. USC, which I might add is the greatest school with the best football team in the entire world. Sorry Mansi, Omeed, and my other UCLA classmates. I had to.
Graduates, think back on the last 10, 20, or 30 years of your life. You’re no longer ‘trying’ or ‘studying’ to become a doctor. Soon enough you will walk across this stage and by some Hogwarts magic, become one.
Today we have the benefit of fancy robes and mimosas coursing through our veins to quell the quiet terror of beginning to introduce ourselves to the world as “doctor.” And what an exciting time it is. We have people going into all different specialties in a variety of locations across the US. I’m particularly thrilled that hospitals not affiliated with our medical school are about to get an influx of Keck graduates as residents, and will be transformed for the better. I truly believe that. We all have unique attributes and gifts that we will contribute; we are Arias’ little pumpkins after all.
I want to close with something my mom told me 6 years ago when I was struggling through Organic Chemistry and Physics, and I called her because I wanted to quit. She said, “Pre-med is like learning the alphabet, medical school is like learning grammar and syntax, and practicing medicine—well that’s poetry, that’s the next great American novel.”
I invite you now as newly minted doctors to go forth and write your story; I have no doubt it will be the most incredible works of art the medical world has ever seen. Thank you and congratulations.