As I graduated from veterinary school, I was given the incredible opportunity by classmates to give the student address at our commencement ceremony. Words cannot begin to describe this honor. In front of the faculty, staff, friends, family, supporters, and fellow graduates, here were my remarks.
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Doctor sure has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?
Thank you, Dean Henry, Dr. Tennison, and Dr. Berent, faculty, staff, friends and family for this amazing celebration of the Class of 2019. And thank you to my fellow classmates for giving me the honor of a lifetime by allowing me to speak on your behalf today.
Before I continue, I want to say what is surely the most important thing I could say in my address. Class of 2019 – when we needed support or wanted to share exciting news while we were in vet school, think of who we called, texted, Facetimed, or ran to. Maybe it was a parent, friend, significant other, teacher, mentor, pet, or a certain picture of ten adorable golden retriever puppies that adorns our class Facebook page. None of us new veterinarians would be here today without the love and support of those closest to us. Let’s give them a big Dr. Evans “woo” and round of applause for giving us support when we needed it the most.
Think back to when you were a kid. Everyone – play along. What did you want to be when you grew up? Nine times out of ten I bet I’d hear fireman, astronaut, soccer player, and probably even veterinarian! But how many people get to fulfill those childhood dreams? Look at us now. Becoming a veterinarian is a dream so many people hold, yet so few fulfill. We did it! So now what? Where do we go from here?
For many of us, our long-held dream was to take the journey that brought us here today. Many of you knew you wanted to be a vet since you were barely out of diapers. But some of us decided on this path a little later in life, like me. Look – I will tell you it hasn’t been easy being one of the oldest in our class. Think about it. Most of you are in the prime of your mid-twenties. I, on the other hand, was born in 1940. I was especially disappointed when I didn’t get my A-A-R-P discount on tuition.
The journey to and through veterinary school is long, and I mean very long. It’s like a maze with what seems like an endless number of doors through which to pass. Each door represented a next step – or a goal – along the way. Let’s take a nostalgic look back at some of the doors we had to pass through.
The first door was getting into college. Then it was passing, with flying colors I may add, all the pre-requisite courses. Oh man, let me tell you how fun that was, and incredibly relevant to our veterinary school curriculum! The next door was a big one – getting into veterinary school. I personally feel very lucky that I had my aunt’s help when applying to schools. She’s actually an actor! I don’t watch a whole of TV, but apparently, she made her big break on some show called Full House. Thanks, Aunt Lori. But in all seriousness. Roughly one out of every ten applicants is accepted to vet school. We were given the honor to continue on this crazy journey. We started with the “basic” science courses in first-year. Pause – have you ever wondered why they call it “basic?” There’s nothing basic about vet school. Even Uggs and leggings aren’t allowed under our dress code. Thankfully, Starbucks was OK. I heard one of you even put a venti Pumpkin Spiced Latte through an IV drip. But I digress. The next door was second-year: our medicine courses. Here we got into the crux of our clinical knowledge, just enough to prepare us for the next door, adorned in bright flashing lights, jewels, doves flying overhead ─ you get the picture. This was clinics – such a magical time – a land of greener pastures. Our clinical training was full of excitement, real-world learning, and responsibility combined with sleep deprivation, heaps of paperwork, and spending more time in the hospital than in our homes. The next door was fourth-year, and from there landing an internship, residency, or job. And the last door we passed through led us to today. Now what? What’s going to be the next door?
Veterinary medicine has come a long way. In the 1800s, veterinarians were more or less the car mechanics of their day. No longer do our dogs and cats live outside but in our homes. And if they’re lucky even sleep next to us in bed. We live in the age where we utilize medical and surgical techniques once thought only worthy for humans: CT and MRI scans, laparoscopic surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, even brain surgery. How will we transform veterinary medicine? Now that we’re veterinarians, what’s our next big goal in our career? Is it to become a veterinary specialist? To own a practice? To make a groundbreaking research discovery? What will commencement speakers decades from now say about the great things we did to change our profession? What’s so great about the Class of 2019 is our wide range of talents, career diversity, and drive to question and challenge the status quo. For our class, there is no limit to what we can do. We all have a common, innate calling to care for all living creatures – because by improving the lives of animals we improve the lives of people around us. Will this group of newly minted veterinarians accomplish amazing things in their careers? The best way I can answer that is in the words of our very own Dr. Tu – “yessss.”
Today is a bittersweet day when all of us will open new doors leading to different mazes. Today we close the door to our lives as students. Let’s face it – we actually probably slam the door and start sprinting. The truth is, the real journey starts now. Today is the day we set new goals. Big goals. Over the course of the past twenty-plus years of schooling, our big goal was to get to this day – to become a veterinarian.
Today’s ceremony is called commencement for a reason. Today we start new paths. So now what? Where do we go from here? Have you thought about it? The next door you open doesn’t have to be big. Any door will do. How are you going to make your mark on the world of veterinary medicine and beyond? Class of 2019 – promise me just three things. One – always stay curious and never stop learning. The day we stop learning is the day our careers go stale. Two – after you close one door, always be looking for that next door to open. Don’t find yourself at the dead-end of a maze. And three – next time you see Dr. Mann or Dr. Meadows do them a favor and laugh at their latest dad joke. I cannot express how excited I am to see what this group of veterinarians will accomplish. We made it to the finish line. It’s said that to whom much is given, much is expected. So how will you leave your mark on our profession, the animals we care for, and the world? Look how far we’ve come. Thank you all for being the best group of people to travel through this wild and crazy journey with.