School of Medicine’s dean, Lloyd Minor, challenges students to live with optimism

At the graduation ceremony, Minor encouraged the Class of 2024 to choose optimism in their careers: “Create the best out of any situation and be the light that leads others.”

“See the world not for what it is today but for what it can become,” Lloyd Minor told the medical school graduates.
Steve Fisch

Family, friends, loved ones, faculty and, most importantly, the graduating class of 2024: Congratulations!

Every year, graduation stands as one of the most joyous moments on our campus — a time when colleagues, mentors and loved ones come together to celebrate our students’ achievements and their new beginnings.

Today marks a celebration of your hard work to reach this milestone and a testament to the potential we see in you as you embark on your next chapter.

As you do, I’m reminded of a French proverb: “Wherever life plants you, bloom with grace.”

This leads me, graduates, to one final assignment that we at Stanford have for you.

Wherever you go next, arrive as unshakable optimists. See the world not for what it is today but for what it can become. Create the best out of any situation and be the light that leads others. Above all, resist the temptation to give in to negativity and cynicism. We already have plenty of that in the world today and we see the fruit it bears.

Now, I know this may not always come easily. And I’ll admit, in my lifetime, I have never felt before such dissonance within myself, and I’m sure many of our graduates can relate. But in medicine, we cannot help but feel the wonder and optimism about future possibilities — we see progress all around us.

And yet, just looking around, we also see a world desperately in need of healing. Conflict in every sense is intensifying in our global society, and each day seems to bring more bad news.

Still, every time, I choose optimism. Why? For one, my belief in a better future is sustained each day by the incredible people I have the privilege to work alongside. And certainly, it’s also because of the tremendous talent we are gathered here to recognize today. But also because of a lesson I learned from a former student of my mother, Mrs. Minor, who taught kindergarten for many years in Arkansas.

That student went on to graduate from Stanford, and she now leads a renowned foundation supporting public health in the developing world.

By now, you might have guessed, that student was Chelsea Clinton. In a recent conversation, Chelsea told me that whenever she feels a sense of despair settling in her about the state of the world, she reminds herself that optimism is a moral choice.

And I realized afterward what universal, timeless wisdom she shared.

Immanuel Kant described optimism as “a moral duty.” Nelson Mandela, who had so many reasons to give up or give in to pessimism, stated simply, “They always call it impossible before it is done.” Helen Keller shared that “Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement.”

These visionaries remind us that good things happen when we trust in a better tomorrow and that it’s the only way they ever do.

That aspiration — that daring to be an optimist — is one I hope we all embrace.

I know sometimes it’s tempting to feel gloomy about the state of affairs. Your generation has already lived through monumental disruptions that could alter your perspective, so I understand if you worry my appeal is too pie in the sky, even on this, one of the most optimistic days of your life.

But I’m not talking about optimism for its own sake. Nor am I prescribing the kind of head-in-the-sand optimism that ignores realities.

The kind of optimism that I’m talking about is fundamentally a precursor to action — it’s a belief that demands accountability from all of us. It forces us to step forward and prove to others why they should believe in our vision, whereas cynicism requires nothing more than stepping back and declaring the situation futile.

The history of biomedicine is written by those who step forward — optimists who are living proof of its power. If you ever need a reminder, go to a bone marrow transplant reunion.

I’ve had the privilege of attending our program’s reunions. Standing in that crowd, surrounded by patients and their families who have beaten the odds — 5, 10 and 20 years after a life-saving transplant — is one of the most moving experiences of my career. I see children who were once given a dire prognosis playing with their friends, adults who got a second lease on life embracing their loved ones, and I am filled with an overwhelming sense of hope.

Their stories didn’t happen overnight. Physicians and scientists worked tirelessly because they believed the impossible could be possible. That work isn’t finished, but every one of those lives saved reflects an opportunity given to them by clinicians and researchers who, not that long ago, were sitting where you are today. And every one of those patients and their families will tell you that they couldn’t have made it through it without betting on optimism.

Over a long, long march of progress, defying impossibility has become the rule, not the exception, in our field. In the marathon of learning and relearning, from the classroom to the lab to the bedside, generation by generation, diseases that were death sentences have been relegated to history books or soon may be.

Cancer death rates have fallen 33% since 1991. AIDS can now be managed with antivirals. CRISPR can cure sickle cell disease and has the potential to cure many other diseases. And just think what tomorrow may hold.

When we look back and see the path to good in today, we see that optimism is simply the better choice. In fact, embracing this outlook doesn’t just have broad societal applicability. It will improve your individual life.

So, Class of 2024, wherever your life plants you, bloom with grace. Bring hope and optimism to every place you go, and you will help make this world better, not just for yourself, but for everyone around you.

Thank you, and congratulations to the incredible class of 2024!

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.

2024 ISSUE 1

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