President Kington, members of the Grinnell Community, parents, loved ones, and the class of 2011. I’m deeply humbled by receiving this honorary degree from Grinnell alongside such extraordinary people as Anna Quindlen, David Feldman, and Henry Wilhelm. These three individuals have had a remarkable life of achievement. While I do not believe I deserve the same honor awarded to them, I’m grateful that Grinnell has bestowed this honor perhaps as a mark of potential. Over the years ahead, this degree will be a continued reminder of what I hope to achieve to earn this great honor. I share them with you now.
I hope to understand how devastating infectious diseases like Ebola, cholera, malaria and lassa fever have plagued ancient populations and to this day remain threats to our survival. I hope to use this understanding to develop better diagnostics and interventions. I hope to carry out my work in close partnership with scientists in the countries most affected, like Nigeria and Sierra Leon. I hope to invest in my students, in the U.S. and abroad, and cultivate their talents so they can one day go on to exceed my own accomplishments. I hope to nurture not only their scientific minds, but also their humanity, by treating them with great kindness and by holding them to the highest standards of integrity. I hope to shape the culture of science and medicine to make it a place I can earnestly say to the aspiring young minds that it is the greatest path in the world.
I hope to call my friends, remember their birthdays. Tell my parents how much I love them. Be there for my friends when they are sick. I hope to be good to those who love me, and to remember to laugh often. I hope to exercise, drink water, eat vegetables, sing, and remember that I have to be healthy to take care of others. I hope to speak my mind, and never let my voice be unheard. I hope to do so to protect others who cannot speak out for themselves.
To the graduates of Grinnell, your degree today is well deserved, earned by years of focus and effort, and your diligence has served you well. What you have accomplished today is truly remarkable. But this degree is more than a mark of achievement; it is a mark of potential. Each of you are here today because someone saw the great potential within you to do extraordinary things. But you have to be present and engaged in your own lives to actualize that potential. Some of you I’m sure already have fantastic plans for realizing your ambitions. Others may be less certain. Don’t fear uncertainty; embrace it. It is a sign of just how vast your potential really is. Take your time to figure out just what resonates with you and take risks along the way. When you wake up every day excited about whatever it is you are doing, you know you are in the right place. And here are just five pieces of advice from my own experience to guide you in your own journey toward self actualization.
One: Always remember that your health comes first: the health of your mind, of your body, and of your heart. Don’t let anyone abuse those things, least of all yourselves. You need to be strong for your journey.
Two: Preserve your kindness and your humanity. Nothing is worth doing without doing with integrity, and nowhere is worth getting to without your loved ones to share it with.
Three: Keep your mind organized, as you did in high school. The more advanced you get in degrees, the farther apart the deadlines, and the easier it is to lose track of what you are doing. Get a journal, take notes, keep your mind clear.
Four: Set aside time to be ridiculous. Take your work seriously, but if you can’t find ways to laugh along the way, you’ll lose perspective.
And finally: never allow yourself to be stagnant. Surround yourself with people who inspire you and your loved ones who deserve to be inspired by you. If you can find joy and wonder in every day, the rest will fall into place organically.
The class of 2011, I hope the happiness and excitement that you feel today will be with you for years to come. Congratulations on your tremendous achievement. Best wishes with actualizing your tremendous potential, and my sincerest thank you for allowing me to be here today to celebrate with you.