Commencement 2018 Remarks

Dean Lloyd B. Minor


Welcome to the 2018 commencement ceremony for the Stanford University School of Medicine. To parents, significant others, families, and friends: I would like to offer, on behalf of our graduates, a most sincere thank you. Your support and sacrifices have helped make this momentous occasion possible.

To the graduates, congratulations!

There has never been a better time to embark upon your future paths. Whether you plan to be an investigator pursuing fundamental discovery, a scientist working in biotechnology, a practicing physician providing outstanding care, a clinician scientist translating discoveries to improve health, an entrepreneur, or — yes — a McKinsey consultant, you have unparalleled opportunities to make a difference.

In the golden age of biomedicine we enjoy today, major breakthroughs don’t just redefine our understanding of human biology and disease, they open up whole new fields of study. But as the pace of discovery accelerates, we must confront another troubling trend: a growing distrust of science as a source of truth. As science makes our lives more comfortable, many are becoming less comfortable with science.

As Stanford Medicine graduates, you have a unique understanding of the transformative benefits of discovery. So, today, as we send you off to change the world, I’d like to ask you to help share those life-changing benefits – to be a spokesperson, advocate, and defender of science.

I’m not asking you as a culture warrior or a card-carrying member of any group, political or otherwise. Science skeptics come from every income and education cohort, and you can find them on every band of the political spectrum. Overcoming this skepticism is not going to be achieved through polarization or marginalization. Instead, a concerted effort by all of us is required to focus attention on the beneficial ways our lives have been changed by science and the exciting opportunities that lie ahead.

Consider: more than half of the residents of Marin County, suburban San Francisco, hold at least a bachelor’s degree, making the county one of the best educated in the country. According to a 2015 Kaiser Permanente study, it is also where nearly one in five children under the age of 36 months has not been fully vaccinated. The latest CDC numbers show that vaccination rates for kindergarteners have fallen in 11 states, largely because of fears about side effects — fears unsubstantiated by science.

Vaccinations are just one area where the public’s views differ from the scientific and medical community. A 2017 Pew Research Center survey found an incredible 51 percentage point gap between scientists and the average adult on the question of whether it is safe to eat genetically modified foods. And while the correlation between political ideology and beliefs on some issues is well known, the Pew study found the strongest factors influencing views on genetically modified foods are age, gender, and education.

Science is on trial — with diverse detractors on many fronts — and we must come to its defense.

As physicians and scientists, I believe we have a responsibility to educate people, especially children, about the role and value of science in our society today and the power of science to give us a better future. While there is a growing distrust of science itself; Americans, on the whole, have great faith in scientists and medical professionals. In fact, the Pew survey found that Americans are much more likely to trust a scientist than they are an industry leader, a member of the news media, or an elected official.

Becoming an advocate for science may mean you will become a regular visitor to your local elementary or middle school, where passionate scientists and medical professionals are welcomed with open arms. Your excitement and energy will be contagious. You can share stories of discovery and progress — of the creative genius of Karl Deisseroth whose revolutionary optogenetics just yesterday earned him the Kyoto Prize or, indeed, of the work of any of the faculty on this stage today or in so many other laboratories and universities. Every scientist has a story and those stories should be told.

Better yet, talk about your own journey of discovery.

Inspire others by your passion for your work — and not just to the young and those outside biomedicine but to researchers and practitioners in other disciplines who may not yet see the relation of your work to theirs. As you offer up your story, don’t gloss over difficulties, the moments when you came so close to quitting. Let them see the challenges so they can experience the rewards more fully. Let your enthusiasm and pride be infectious.

Your role as an emissary for science may also mean you take the opportunity during a cocktail or block party to explain the science behind a recent news story. Perhaps that will involve a discussion about the often incremental and dynamic nature of scientific truth — and how it could be that sugar has now supplanted fat as a leading cause of obesity, to cite one popular example. But more likely it means you will not begin a conversation but simply listen and ask questions. Be inquisitive. Embrace the dialogue. Develop mutual trust and understanding.

And don’t forget to share the vision that drives your work.

When you talk about the importance of genetic testing or the possibilities of regenerative medicine, tell people why it matters — how these advances can contribute to a bold vision of predictive and preventive Precision Health for all people. Just think what we can accomplish if each one of you — our graduates — leaves here today to embark on your career as a scientist or physician as well as a champion of science, spreading the excitement of discovery one person or one classroom at a time.

Imagine the Stanford Medicine classes of 2038 and 2048 full of today’s youngsters inspired by your example and a world celebrating how the science of tomorrow has overcome the greatest challenges of today.

Dean Lloyd B. Minor