School of Medicine dean Lloyd Minor charges graduates with building community

At graduation, Minor encouraged the Class of 2023 to develop strong relationships with everyone in their careers — for their own and others' benefit.

"If you value community, you won’t just succeed as an individual, you’ll reenergize those around you," Lloyd Minor told the School of Medicine graduates.
Steve Fisch

Family, friends, loved ones, faculty and, most importantly, the great graduating class of 2023: Congratulations!

You all have worked toward and hoped for this milestone achievement for a very long time — many of you for your whole lives.

Today celebrates a moment of incredible individual achievement marked by late nights in the lab; hours upon hours at patient bedsides; and untold amounts of reading, cramming and exams. A relentless pursuit not just of your field, but of your passion.

Now, finally, you get to exhale. You did it. You got here.

Which reminds me: Those of us who are speakers today have never held more power than at this very moment. We’re all that stands between you and your diploma.

But as much as this is an individual milestone, it’s equally a moment to celebrate for all of us.

There’s an old Arkansas expression I heard growing up in Little Rock: “A turtle sitting on a fencepost didn’t get there on its own.”

For each of us, for all of us, there was someone, more likely a whole lot of “someone’s” who made the difference on the journey. Families who raised and supported us from our earliest days, or families we chose and made our own along the way.

Friends and teachers. Classmates and colleagues.

All of which brings me to three words I’ve been thinking about a lot this year – three simple words: “Grateful. For. Community.”

Because after two and a half years where we had to learn to live apart, in this last year, we all had to relearn how to live and work together.

We were reminded what it was like to share a campus — to share community.

And we were reminded just how much we all needed that, and how much we will need it going forward.

Because in life and certainly in biomedicine, whether beside patients or at the bench, there are many good times to share and celebrate as a community. The smiles, the laughter, the sense of victory and accomplishment.

But we regularly face tough times, too. Disappointments and defeat. Tragedy and turbulence. And it’s in difficult moments that I think you’ll find yourselves even more grateful for community. Grateful for the support system that makes the difference between weathering the storm — or capsizing.

But more importantly, everything I’ve learned through everything I’ve done, has taught me this: The community we’re most grateful for isn’t a place on the map, it’s a way of life.

Community doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all definition.

But the way people experience it is almost universal, and so are the returns.

It’s about belonging. It’s about believing that you have a stake in someone else’s well-being.

And the human experiment in community has — at its best — grown stronger as it has become bigger and broader and more welcoming.

I have no doubt that in your last days as medical, biosciences and physician assistant students you felt a surge of gratitude for simple things. Red Bull and coffee, the restorative power of sleep, and the importance of an alarm clock.

But I would posit you have also felt gratitude for some of what we all get to take for granted again: the high-five from a supportive classmate, the fact that our closest family and friends can attend today in-person, and the fact that the world has opened up again.

And while you probably didn’t have time to think of it, we should all be grateful for the resilience of each and every one of you who navigated these last years. To paraphrase a legend of the Bay Area, “What a long, strange trip it’s been.”

And as your time as students in the programs you’re receiving degrees from today closes, the trip is just beginning — anew.

All of us and all of you feel, in a deeply personal way, the importance of the words “believe in science.”

You are caregivers who help patients prevent and overcome illness and injury. You are innovators finding new knowledge to bring new treatments, cures and breakthroughs to populations. Yet, we’ve seen all too recently a pandemic of mistrust impacting our work. Our jobs depend upon people trusting what we say because they trust the science behind our words.

But as I’ve thought about community more broadly, beyond the bounds of our campus, it has struck me this year especially, that maybe to renew a broad trust in science requires us to first restore trust in one another.

That means, of course, appreciating that diversity and inclusion aren’t a favor we do for other people, but a value of community we live up to because it makes all of us stronger, smarter and more fulfilled.

Communities are strongest when we go to school with and work with and live with and love people with different cultures, practices and beliefs from our own.

And it means that not only do we learn from others’ experiences and perspectives but that we respect each other enough to listen to, to empathize with and to appreciate people for what makes them whole.

I’m especially grateful for the people I’ve met here who shared with me things I didn’t know or couldn’t know because I hadn’t walked in their shoes or lived their experience.

But I’m also grateful for the courteous but clear way in which our community shares things that are sometimes hard to hear. Community isn’t about swallowing hard truths instead of speaking them. Real community is saying something hard when it needs to be said, respectfully.

We sometimes call this being a “disagreeable giver”: someone who supports others without expectation of a return, who doesn’t equate politeness with silence, but who’s willing to say the hard things that must be heard. I’m grateful for these people I’ve met in your class who widen my perspective, and I’m confident you’ll be grateful to build that kind of community wherever you go and whatever you do.

Community runs on relationships, not resumés, and every relationship counts.

Always remember the words of wisdom often attributed to Maya Angelou: “People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.”

So, value everyone. You’ll find that if you exemplify these principles in your behavior and your expressions, more often than not, others will interact with you in the same way. 

Remember in a community, how you do it counts just as much as what you do.

You’ll face ups and downs, highs and lows. You’ll appreciate people who share in the good times. But you’ll forge ironclad bonds with those who stand with you when times get tough, and believe me, it’s a much shorter list. I encourage you to be one of the people on that list in your community — for your friends, for your family and for your colleagues.

Community isn’t just about grand gestures.

When you walk into a meeting brimming with confident people, find that new person who feels unsure that they belong, the person hidden in the corner. Read that body language and say, “Why don’t you sit right here? We’ll make room.” Make someone know they belong because that’s how you make people feel invested.

That’s how you make all of us feel we are in this together.

Community works, but community is work. It’s active, not passive. It’s a muscle that can atrophy: You have to keep your eyes constantly open for opportunities to cultivate community.

Community is saying thank you, privately and publicly, and with meaning.

Community is being self-aware. Words can demonstrate you see your coworkers as co-people.

It’s 30 seconds on a Monday morning to say something, anything, to break down the walls between everyday work and everyday life.

Community is making eye contact as you rush down the hall.

Community is knowing the names of the support staff, not just those with direct influence on your career path.

The best part? If you value community, you won’t just succeed as an individual, you’ll reenergize those around you. It brings out the best in you when you bring out the best in others. You’ll be invested, together.

And just as it is easier and easier these days to be divided, the opposite can be true as well. Community is contagious.

Answer the call of community.

Show the world how to lift people up, not tear them down.

And one day, when you’re scrambling and stumbling, count on the community you’ve built up to keep you from falling down.

Graduates, as you go out into this new world, remember the words of the African proverb: “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” 

Class of 2023, I’m grateful for you, and I know you will go far. Community works, now go work at it — and go farther, together. Congratulations. 

About Stanford Medicine

Stanford Medicine is an integrated academic health system comprising the Stanford School of Medicine and adult and pediatric health care delivery systems. Together, they harness the full potential of biomedicine through collaborative research, education and clinical care for patients. For more information, please visit med.stanford.edu.

2023 ISSUE 3

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