It’s a great day, isn't it? Payday, Memorial Day weekend, and above all, UMMC’s 63rd Commencement.
As I was getting my thoughts together for today’s ceremony, it occurred to me that many if not most of you have never been to a UMMC Commencement. It is quite the occasion. Several thousand excited people fill the Mississippi Coliseum, there to watch a son, daughter, husband, wife, niece, nephew, grandchild, cousin or friend celebrate the milestone accomplishment of completing a degree in the health professions. Pride, admiration and joy fill every heart, including mine.
The platform party assembles on the stage at one end of the coliseum, with University of Mississippi Chancellor Larry Sparks presiding. Our distinguished guests this year include three members of the Board of Trustees of the State Institutions of Higher Learning: Mr. Tom Duff of Hattiesburg, Dr. Walt Starr of Columbus (a graduate of our dental school) and Mr. Bruce Martin of Meridian.
In my mind, as far as a sensory treat goes, nothing tops the commencement processional. To the stirring sounds of a brass ensemble playing “Pomp and Circumstance,” wave upon wave of faculty, then graduates, dressed in their formal academic regalia, march onto the floor of coliseum and take their seats. Although not all of the graduates are able to participate in commencement, this year their ranks number 854.
For some time now, we have foregone the custom of having a featured graduation speaker. Too many graduates, too little time! Instead, the Vice Chancellor typically offers some words of wisdom and encouragement. I find that on this occasion, less is more, so I ask them to remember four things above all:
Number One: Today is a milestone. It is not the end. In fact, this is only the beginning of your learning process. As you go forward, you will learn from one another AND you will learn from the greatest teachers of all – the patients.
Number Two: You will make choices every day that will impact others in a significant way. Deal with others and those you serve with a deep respect for our differences. Choose respect. Choose kindness. Choose courage.
Number Three: Our nation will continue to struggle with ways to care for the sick. I challenge every one of you to be a part of the solution to this struggle. In all things, leave it better than you found it.
Number Four: You will never practice any health profession well if you don’t have a good time doing it. The work before you is HARD. It is important. It is heavy. AND it is rewarding and worth doing. Remember the excitement, the spirit, the passion you have today. Look for the JOY. Have a good time.
Immediately after my remarks, the big moment arrives, when all the graduates stand and the Chancellor says these long-anticipated words:
“By the authority vested in me by the Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning, with the recommendation of the Medical Center faculty, I now confer upon each of you the degree to which you are entitled, with all of the rights, privileges, immunities and responsibilities appertaining thereto.”
And then, school by school, the graduates walk across the stage to receive their diplomas and hoods adorned with the traditional color associated with their profession. After the recessional, the graduates disperse to celebrate with friends and family, descending on the restaurants of the metro area.
And that’s a wrap. Until we do it all over again next May.
Commencement marks the culmination of another cycle in our academic mission, which is our first and foremost mission. We pursue our other missions of research and patient care because in doing so we are privileged to teach the next generation of scientists, clinicians and technicians. Discovery of new knowledge and the provision of superb patient care are the beneficial byproducts of our academic mission. Of all the things we do for our state, to me this annual renewal of our corps of health professionals serving Mississippi is our greatest service.
I want to pause here and thank our faculty. Commencement is as much a reflection of your work as it is our students’. And I want to thank all the staff and faculty who each year help us achieve a flawless commencement ceremony, managing any contingency with grace and humor.
And most of all, I want to congratulate our graduating students. I hope you will proceed with courage, maintain the persistence that got you to this day, and join us on our journey toward A Healthier Mississippi.