Bailey Sanders – Commencement Speech 2014 – Penn State College of Medicine

My last day of Spanish class was in the second grade. Everyone was speaking Spanish but the cool kids, the dreamers, the middle
schoolers who looked conjugation in the face and laughed, they took French [laughter].
I wish I could go back to that seven-year-old me and push me off the swings. Tell me what
a colossal idiot I was and what a horrible mistake I was making. I really only have one regret in this life and that is that after years of translating and conjugating, I’m
pretty darn good at French. A language spoken by one country, the colonies that remain from
the their attempts of global domination, and half a dozen folks in Canada, the middle child
of North America [laughter], and by absolutely no one in an American hospital [laughter].
It may be the language of art and the language of love but it is not the language of practicality
in the American healthcare system and no matter how hard I try, that marble of fudge between my
ears would rather commit to memory the lyrics of a rap song about boats than learn a third
language [laughter]. [foreign language spoken] I have this one regret and after twenty-six some odd
years of my buffoonery it’s pretty darn miraculous that I only have just one. I’m starting to
regret agreeing to do this because I freely admit that I’m horribly, laughably unqualified
to offer any advice to you. You are doctors and scientists. Why can’t I offer advice?
I’ll use my favorite and most often used phrase from medical school for the very last time:
“I’m not a doctor!” [laughter]. I know nothing about this giant, menacing ocean that is the
next stage of your training. Nor can I comprehend what sort of kraken will be feeding on your
toes when you begin to try to swim. However today, on this momentous occasion, I reflect
on our lives, on our choices, and on the fact that I have only one regret. I make lots of
decisions with the possibility of regretting them later – medicine, grad school, I think
I’ll get a Ph.D. I bet no one ever regretted that [laughter]. If I am to survive to craft
a meaningful career and to become the kind of doctor that these folks make me want to
be, it would behoove me to figure out how the heck did I get here so unscathed and what
can I do to continue on this hot streak of no regrets. So after four years of medical school
and enough money spent at Starbucks that I could’ve bought a yacht, here’s what I figured
out [laughter]. Three important components to building a life and a career without regrets:
One, I have never regretted a pursuit, honorable or foolish, about which I have had a passion.
From where I stand it seems if you have a passion you have a shot at a meaningful career.
In 1984 Barry Marshal was an Australian scientist. He was pretty sure that a certain bacteria
was associated with stomach ulcers. In fact, Barry was so passionate that he grew the bacteria
in his lab and then drank the contents of his own petri dish to see if he would develop
an ulcer. He documented his subsequent suffering with regular biopsies and his mother’s opinion
of how his breath smelled [laughter]. Because of his passion and his very patient mother
Barry proved H. pylori was the culprit behind stomach ulcers and won a Nobel Prize. Hey
Dad, come smell my breath [laughter]. No, it’s for a Nobel Prize, I swear. To inoculate
yourself, now that’s passion for an idea. Julia Child, the Steve Jobs of food has said
find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it and Julia
Child is just as right about life as she is about bundt cake. You have never, and will
never, regret a pursuit of passion. But critics are eager to pounce. I’m sure many respected
scientists thought Barry Marshall was a wackadoo and in such a climate of antagonism that we
are about to enter, therein lies the importance of my second tenement and that is courage.
Rumor has it the idea to perform surgery through tiny holes instead of a huge incision was
first conceived by a French man. Rumor also has it that the idea wasn’t very well received
and who could blame them as up to this point the trophy case of French inventions included
white flags and edible mold [laughter]. The very first documented laparoscopic surgery
was performed in 1901 on a dog. The gynecologists widely accepted it but the general surgeons,
they wanted nothing to do with it. The very first appendix removed laparoscopically was
done by a German gynecologist, a Dr. Kurt Semm, after which the president of the German
Surgical Society demanded that Semm be suspended from medical practice. Semm was denied from
publishing his case on the grounds that the technique was unethical. So what year in medieval
history was Dr. Semm’s lap appy, today’s most common surgery, considered an egregious and
unethical horror that demanded suspension? 1981. That’s like yesterday [laughter]. Now,
in 2014, it’s widely accepted. Laparoscopic surgery yields less pain, faster return to
school and work, better cosmetic results. Whoops. It takes courage to pursue your passions.
You may have thought of the next biggest advance in your field but when critics abound it takes
courage to pursue it. Poet e.e. cummings says “it takes courage to grow up and become who
you really are” and that is true. To start something new, to persist in the face of criticism,
even to toil on behalf of an idea that may yield nothing takes courage, which brings
me to my final piece of wisdom. The one characteristic of my life that I am most confident that I
will never, ever regret and the reason why I respect the students in the Penn State College
of Medicine and that is hard work. The most worthwhile and gratifying pursuits are those
that are accomplished with old-fashioned sweat and blood and work. Even the most accidental
discovery in medical history. In 1922 Dr. Alexander Fleming accidentally shed a tear
into one of his petri dishes. Now crying into your basic science lab work is something I
fully understand [laughter]. We’ve all been there. But Dr. Fleming noticed that where
his tear had fallen was free from the growth of bacteria. It wouldn’t be until six years
later that he noticed a similar reaction with mold. Voila, penicillin and, thus, antibiotics
were born, six years between discoveries. That’s six seasons of The Office, six Super Bowls, and
like nine Kim Kardashian marriages [laughter]. Point is, in an age of iPhones, Netflix, and
the hot and ready sign at the Krispy Kreme instant gratification is the norm. We forget
that hard work yields the gratifying and satisfying results. Not one of us rolled out of bed yesterday
with the dream of wearing these robes. All of this took years of your time and sacrifice.
Hard work is unique and rare and worthwhile; it is known intimately by everyone in these
seats and I hope you never regret working hard. So that is how I, and maybe we, got
here so incredibly fulfilled and regretless: Passion, courage, and hard work. Of all the
choices in my life that I could regret I will never, ever regret coming to Penn State. It
will go down as one of the best decisions of my entire life. And so, my friends, we
are now in our last few moments on that warm stretch of sandy beach. Once we accept this
hood we wade into that dark, icy water that is the real professional world and we will
begin to struggle to swim. Being such I leave you with this final thought, promise me you
will not spend so much time treading water and trying to keep your head above the waves
that you forget how much you have always loved to swim. I am so very proud of you. I’m so
very fortunate to have known you, to have worked with you, and to stand up beside you
today cause if I continue to stand in front of you you won’t be able to see anything [laughter].
Ask these folks. You could’ve all left, they’d never know [laughter]. Thank you so very much
for everything that you have done. I cannot wait to see what fabulous things you will
do. Bon chance, buena suerte and have a wonderful career. Thank you very much. [ Applause ]


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