The Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing commencement speech as delivered on June 13, 2019 at the Mondavi Center.
Thank you Interim Dean Ward, distinguished members of the stage party, faculty, staff, friends, families – and most importantly – the graduating students of the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing!
I am so honored to be able to celebrate such a joyous and memorable occasion with you. I feel a certain affinity for the School of Nursing. I spent a lot of time there when I arrived at UC Davis in 2017. I remember the official ribbon cutting and opening gala for the opening of Betty Irene Moore Hall. I remember the pride as we showed off its state-of-the-art features, and I feel that same pride as we celebrate the School’s first commencement.
Graduates … today, you take your place among the first 500 alumni of this distinguished school!
The Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing is ranked among the 50 best graduate nursing schools in the country. That’s remarkable, especially when you consider the school was founded just 10 years ago. This school represents the best of what can be accomplished with a clear vision, strong support, dedicated faculty, and unwavering determination.
Now imagine: What might you accomplish in the next 10 years?
You are the healthcare leaders, providers, clinicians, researchers, and educators of tomorrow. As a UC Davis graduate, you have an excellent foundation of skills and knowledge to accomplish anything you set out to do. I’ll talk more about that in a moment.
I see much more than an ocean of caps and gowns out there. I see more than the next generation that’s going to change the world.
What I see are heroes who are ready to make a difference. Now a hero doesn’t need a cape or magic powers to do that. A hero can make a difference through their everyday actions. A hero is someone who strives to help others. A hero inspires us through their tenacity. A hero makes the world a better place. At the end of the day, a hero gives us faith that a better tomorrow is possible.
Healthcare professionals are among our greatest heroes. Helping others and leading with scientific knowledge are at the very heart of your mission. You pushed hard to get here today. Many of you balanced work, family, financial, or personal challenges with the demands of your studies. But you never gave up. You pressed on – all the way to this glorious day.
Many of you are now heroes in your family. You may be the first in your families to earn a graduate degree. Perhaps you had to overcome Imposter Syndrome, but that cap and gown prove there’s no doubt you were meant to be here.
So today, we celebrate you – our UC Davis community of heroes.
I’m talking about people like Brandon Coustette, who’s graduating with a master’s degree in nursing. While completing his master’s coursework, he worked as a paramedic in the Emergency Department at Enloe Medical Center in Chico.
Last November changed his life and the lives of many others. He was at the Surgical ICU at UC Davis Medical Center logging some preceptor hours when he heard the news about a wildfire not far from Chico. As the magnitude of the fire became clear, Brandon headed home to check on his family. The fire came within just a quarter-mile of their home.
Brandon spent that night working in the emergency department, doing what he could to help evacuees arriving for treatment. He did this knowing some of his own family members lost their homes to the fire. Brandon and his wife continued to reach out, taking in several displaced families in the aftermath of the Camp Fire.
“It was a crazy time,” Brandon says. “I was wrapping up burned feet during the day, then coming home at night to help my own family members.” If that wasn’t enough, he also raised money so hospital staff could provide gift cards to fire victims. They knew a little extra gas or food money would go a long way for people in need.
The whole experience only confirmed that Brandon was on the right path – and now he has the tools to make a difference as a registered nurse. He found his home in emergency medicine.
Many of you have similar stories to tell. When the devastation in Paradise became clear, many nursing students rushed to help, even if it meant studying for finals would have to wait.
Our heroes are people like Ashley Hurst, who’s graduating as a Family Nurse Practitioner. Ashley has quite a resume already. She worked as an ICU nurse and served as a bilingual doula. She helped with HIV/AIDS outreach in Mexico and spent time in emergency medical service in Costa Rica.
But at UC Davis, she found her passion – serving women, children and our most vulnerable communities. She spent the past year doing a clinical rotation at a Spanish-speaking Dixon Clinic, where she served those in need, including migrant workers and undocumented residents. The experience reinforced her commitment to address health disparities among the underserved and ensure they receive the care they need and deserve.
By the way, Ashley juggled all of this as a single mom with two young children – not easy. So, this day is a tribute to her dedication.
As highly educated and skillfully prepared health professionals, you’ll have no shortage of opportunities to make the world a better place.
Health care is changing. Family nurse practitioners and physician assistants are assuming greater roles in primary health care. Hospital stays for patients are getting shorter. More are recovering from home thanks to new diagnostic tools for home care. More and more, we’re using telecommunication technology to deliver a broad spectrum of health care services to people in remote and underserved regions.
You are part of a new vision of health care. You are the change agents we desperately need to keep our communities healthy and ensure that everyone has access to quality care, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, citizenship, or socio-economic class.
Just remember: with great power comes great responsibility. Heroes don’t just think of themselves, but how they can help society.
For the graduating students in the School of Nursing, that means providing compassionate care, shaping healthcare policies, improving delivery systems, leading health teams, educating future clinicians, and using technology to improve outcomes. You have the power, not only to transform, but to save lives. You can improve the health outcomes for a single individual or you can improve the well-being of entire communities. These powers are not to be taken lightly.
You come from different backgrounds and you took different paths to get here. So too will the course of your careers look very different. You will go on to become nurses, physician assistants, family nurse practitioners, nurse leaders, and health experts.
Regardless of what brought you to this day, or the life that you envision for yourself in the future – know that you are ready. The fact that you are here today is a testament to your tenacity. You’ve already had an impact far beyond Sacramento. During your clinical rotations and preceptorships, you’ve benefited communities throughout Northern California. You’ve embraced our mission of serving the underserved. You’ve helped immigrant populations, people experiencing homelessness, and many more.
You survived pathophysiology and became an expert at starting an IV. You learned and trained in one of the most state-of-the art facilities at UC Davis – Betty Irene Moore Hall. You practiced high-risk scenarios in simulated environments. You learned how to listen and ask questions and propose solutions.
You have the clinical skills, but more importantly, you have the heart. The college experience is also defined by what is learned beyond the textbook and the classroom. You learned what it means to be part of a community that cares. You learned about and practiced cultural humility and inclusiveness. And you developed critical thinking skills that will serve you well no matter where you go from here.
As you continue to progress in your careers, pay it forward.
As Dr. Ward mentioned, I believe that the measure of our success is best judged by how we enhance the lives of others. This is what a hero does. I think of one of my own heroes, Dr. Augustine Esogbue, who took me under his wing when I was an undergraduate.
We called him Dr. E, and he was the first Black engineering professor at Georgia Tech. I wanted to be like him. We all did. He had the stylish clothes, the intellect, the fancy cars.
But more importantly, he had the spirit of giving back. Dr. E was there for me. He was the role model I needed – a Black man finding success and respect in engineering. He was there to answer questions, and he was there to encourage me toward my goals.
Dr. E was there when I got my PhD at Berkeley, and he was there during the ceremony when I became chancellor of UC Davis.
Soon it will your turn to give back. I guarantee that a young person will look up to you. They will dream of graduating from college and taking on the world. They will aspire to be PAs and nurses, health educators and clinicians, and all the great things you will become.
Take them under your wing and show them what’s possible. Be an example of what a person can become through hard work, passion, and dedication.
Now I know you’re ready to walk across the stage and get out there to celebrate with your families and friends. So let me wrap this up.
A hero’s journey never ends. Keep this spirit with you in the next chapters of your lives. There will be many adventures and new beginnings. But don’t forget that heroes also know how to have fun. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Laugh. Explore. Keep an open mind.
Remember, the hero is also shaped by adversity. Know that there will be challenges, and keep pushing through the obstacles that try and get in your way.
Let me conclude by going back to the definition of a hero.
You are striving to help others. You are working to make this world a better place. You give us faith that a better tomorrow is possible.
Congratulations classes of 2019!
Go. Be great!