We’re exactly one week away from commencement at UMMC. It’s an exciting time of year. For students and their families, it’s the culmination of a long and often challenging journey. For our faculty, who’ve put so much of their heart and soul into these young people, it’s a day of pride that’s also tinged with sadness at impending separation.
Graduation season is always a time for reflection because no matter whether you view it as the end of something or the beginning of something, it’s a transition point, a time to pause and reflect.
I had the pleasure of attending last Saturday’s graduation at Ole Miss. What a spectacle: 15,000 people in the Grove on a beautiful sunny day. The always interesting Walter Isaacson, acclaimed journalist and historian, was the featured speaker, and his speech resonated with me.
Isaacson has written best-selling biographies of some of the world’s most influential and creative people – Steve Jobs, Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci. What they had in common, he said, was not just their intelligence, but their ability to bridge the arts and the sciences in their creative expression. As Isaacson sees it – and I certainly agree – just being smart isn’t enough.
“You are hereby certified by this university as being very smart,” Isaacson told the Ole Miss graduates. “That’s the good news. The bad news is that you’re about to find out that smart people are a dime a dozen.
“Here’s what we forgot to tell you. Smart people often don’t amount to much. What really matters is being imaginative, being creative and being innovative and, most important of all, just being good.”
I would add to that, having courage and perseverance.
Graduation is also on my mind because my youngest child, Jack, will graduate from high school tomorrow and begin the transition to college. Talk about bittersweet: If I could turn back time I would, but that is not possible. His three sisters preceded him to this day, but as every mother with two or more children knows, this time, it will be different.
When we convene for our commencement at the Mississippi Coliseum next Friday morning, we will award 931 degrees. That’s not a record but it’s still a lot of new health care professionals who will fan out across the state. We know that number will grow as our schools expand and we will continue to keep our eye on quality along the way.
Earlier this week, Dr. Ralph Didlake, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs, presented some interesting statistics about our graduation rate – the time it takes our students to complete their degrees. For almost all of our programs, we are above the national benchmarks. That indicates two things – that we are doing a good job of admitting the right students to our programs and that our faculty are performing well in getting those we admit through their respective programs.
Many of our schools practice a form of holistic admissions – seeking applicants with the right academic qualifications but also the right personal attributes. Once students are enrolled, our academic support is strong. We are aggressive in monitoring student performance. We see each student as an investment – by the students, their family, our faculty, and the state of Mississippi – and we work hard to do all we can to see this investment come to fruition in that final, symbolic walk across the stage.
The return on that investment is in addressing the health care workforce needs in Mississippi. And those needs are great. That’s why it’s important to me that we have a focus on meeting the needs right here in our own state above all else.
I know that our soon-to-be graduates are enjoying this last week before they take that walk. I’ve seen them on campus looking a lot less stressed than in past encounters. We’re all looking forward to that big day coming up – the payoff on our collective investment that is helping us reach A Healthier Mississippi.