Commencement 2019 Remarks
Dean Lloyd B. Minor
Welcome to the 2019 commencement ceremony for the Stanford University School of Medicine!
To parents, significant others, families, and friends: I want to share, on behalf of our graduates, a most heartfelt thank you. Your support and sacrifices have helped make this momentous occasion possible.
To the graduates, I offer my sincerest congratulations!
I’d also like to extend my deep appreciation to Dane Johansen for that amazing performance of the first movement of Bach’s Suite in D major for unaccompanied cello. Not only is Dane a cellist in the Cleveland Orchestra, but he is also the brother of Sara Johansen, a member of the M.D. graduating class of 2019.
Dane made a remarkable journey when he hiked the nearly 600 miles of the famed Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in Spain — with his cello on his back. He played Bach’s Six Suites for Solo Cello in 36 churches along the way, and all this was captured by the compelling documentary film “Strangers on the Earth.”
Thank you very much, Dane, for sharing your talents with us today.
Graduates, your years here have been a labor of love, a journey of discovery, and sometimes, in the middle of the night — working in the lab, studying for an exam, or taking care of patients in the hospital — an act of sheer determination.
You are here today, celebrating not just what you accomplished at Stanford but all the hard work that led you to this point. You couldn’t have accomplished all you have without profound passion.
But as you sit on the cusp of your career, consider this: Finding your passion today doesn’t mean ending your pursuit of passion.
For if you do continue that pursuit, you will embark on a lifelong journey fueled by your boundless curiosity. You will go places you hadn’t envisioned—opening doors and likely entering a few mazes.
You have already demonstrated a proclivity for this. It is what led you here today. At some point in high school or college, a teacher, a class, an idea, or an ideal inspired you. And it stuck with you, and it wouldn’t go away until you explored it further. And you found it interesting or confounding, which in many ways is the same thing.
For me, that moment came as an undergraduate when I developed a deep and enduring scientific interest in an area that was to become my field. I trained for 11 years after medical school so that I could make meaningful and impactful contributions as a scientist and clinician, causing many around me to wonder if I would qualify for Social Security before I got a job. It was rhetorical, I'm sure.
But then I found a home at Johns Hopkins, and all of the previous years began to gel.
I secured funding to establish a lab and started a clinical practice. My research was productive. My scientific and the clinical work intersected, and each contributed to the success of the other.
I had arrived. I had accomplished the goal of my life’s work. What I learned, though, was that I had only just arrived at another chapter.
As your career evolves, so too will your interests. The key is understanding from where you derive your passion and from realizing that may change as your career and your life progresses. I moved into leadership because I had a desire to impact biomedicine and health care more broadly.
Don’t get me wrong: Recognizing and embracing that goal didn’t make the leap any less terrifying. But I was and am fortunate to have a wonderful traveling companion.
My wife once gave me a box inscribed with this quote attributed to Lord Chesterfield: “In order to discover new oceans, you have to have the courage to lose sight of the shore.”
With courage, a queasy combination of inspiration and determination, as well as a blessed ignorance of the difficulties ahead, I began charting a new path.
I am not alone in having an indirect journey. I have many classmates and colleagues who have forged distinguished, successful careers, only to pursue fresh challenges as they arose. Having an idea of what you want and how to get there is essential, but knowing how to adapt and embrace changes to your plan is just as crucial.
Now, why do we put ourselves through all of this? You were drawn to Stanford, I am sure, by a higher purpose. You felt our mission statement in your bones before you ever read it. You came to Stanford — to sweat and cry and grow, to laugh and love and grow, to study and learn and grow. Nothing less would do.
Here’s an inspiring case in point. In 2009, Teresa and Jamie Purzner were neurosurgical residents at the University of Toronto. They were all in. Passionate. Committed. But during Teresa’s pediatric neurosurgery rotation, she ran into a wall. She saw firsthand the catastrophic effects of malignant brain tumors called medulloblastomas, and she was frustrated by her inability to help her young patients and their families.
So, she and Jamie changed course and came to Stanford, where they traded their scrubs for lab coats and restarted their careers as graduate students doing basic science research on the causes of brain tumors.
During their graduate studies the Purzners identified a potential treatment for the deadly disease, publishing their findings in 2018. A phase-1 clinical trial to test the drug is now getting underway. As for the Purzners, they’re now back in Toronto completing their neurosurgical residencies.
At its heart, today we celebrate the calling to help others and your insatiable intellectual curiosity. And here at Stanford, inspirations abound. Provost Persis Drell our keynote speaker today, is an example. You undoubtedly met quite a few more at Stanford.
But curiosity alone will not win the day. It must be supplemented by courage. Courage, whether found within yourself or drawn from the enduring support of friends and loved ones, will give your curiosity backbone. It will stiffen your resolve.
The most impressive thing about the story of the Purzners was not their scientific discovery. It was their courage to, in effect, start over.
The choices that come to you during your career may not be so stark, but in their own way, they will be just as momentous.
From the many working to realize the potential of genome editing to the proliferation of artificial intelligence and machine learning, you have witnessed countless breakthroughs and discoveries that are redefining biomedicine and forging new potential career paths.
But as impactful as these advances are, they pale in comparison to the potential and promise of Stanford Medicine’s greatest product: You. The combined intellect and passion gathered under this tent is unequaled. You are unstoppable, even if your journey isn’t a straight line.
Remember, veering from the expected course is not a sign that you are lost. It means that you are a pathfinder.
So, as you move forward in your careers, I encourage you to follow unmarked trails, explore unfamiliar territory, and allow the pursuit of your passion to take you in new directions.
We cannot know with certainty how the sum of our learnings, the evolution of our passions, and the dynamic advances in biomedicine will converge.
But at some point in your life, you will be called on to cross your own ocean. When that happens, I urge you to set sail … and go.