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Aspire and Stand Tall
Commencement Address, College of Science and Technology Temple University

May 16, 2013

President Theobald , Provost Dai, Board of Trustees, Dean Klein, Faculty, Parents, Relatives, Distinguished Guests and Graduating Students: it is with much humility that I stand before you to participate in this Commencement. Graduates, today is a defining moment in your lifetime. It is my privilege to be a part of it.

I love Temple University and am a proud alumnus. The foundations of my professional and personal life were formed here. I arrived on campus with a 17 year old's vision of what college life would be like. At Freshman orientation, the class was told by then President Gladfelter to make the most of our tuition payments of nearly $700 per year. When I arrived there was one men's dormitory, Johnson Hall, and one science building, Barton Hall. I came with a few essential items: rolls of dimes for the pay phone to call home, personalized stationary and postage stamps to write home, a dissection kit for biology, a Roget's Thesaurus to help me through freshman English - and a slide rule for every other course! -The status symbol of the 60’s that said: “I am a Science Major”.

But I also carried with me a consummate determination to become a physician. It was a singular goal in my life that I was able to attain through personal commitment, a rigorous college curriculum, an inspiring faculty, and above all, Temple University’s philosophy of personal engagement in the lives of each and every student. Few among many get this opportunity to return to their College and address a new generation of graduates at the threshold of their lives. It is a daunting responsibility. It entails carefully choosing words that sear and inspire, that are honest, optimistic, transformative and relevant. Thus, I begin with these words that have inspired me for more than fifty years, words written by President James A. Garfield as an oration delivered at Arlington, Virginia entitled Strewing Flowers on the Graves of Union Soldiers. I committed these words to memory while studying at the Philadelphia City Library for they are also inscribed on the Civil War Soldiers Memorial on the Franklin Parkway across from the Library. This monument designed by the renowned sculptor, Hermon Atkins MacNeil, bares its soul as it speaks these words:

 

“Each for himself gathered up the cherished purposes of life, its aims and ambitions, its dearest affections, and flung all

with life itself into the scale of battle”

“Battle” in this context refers to the conflagration that was the Civil War but it serves well as metaphor for all we do and can do and all you are about to do with your lives.

In every past époque, every generation, dreamers dreamed, writers mused, philosophers wondered and scientists discovered. Their imagination and art-forms, thoughts and innovations; their genius enriched their world and the world to come. They were the bedrock of their culture, the steppingstones to the present day and future ideals towards which you too strive and seek. What matters to us today mattered to them. You must look to these great thinkers as your progenators, for each one of you can accomplish your mark and genius as did they for the benefit of mankind. This is indeed an awesome charge. How will you begin? how will you suceed? Here are my suggestions to help along the way.

First: Be a Dreamer

Dreamers are by nature optimists. They take what they know, instill hope and promise, create new visions and long for their realization. No doubt you are all dreamers and you must never stop dreaming. It is in the hearts of dreamers where inovation originates, where songs are made, where images are painted and where thoughts, deep and simple, churn incessantly to bequeath hope and wisdom to gild each of your lives. Dreamers are artisans, painters of unfading hues, infusing promises stretched on canvasses towards infinity. Dreamers seek covenants of victory between their immagination and their deeds. The fervor of their sucesses is contagious. To cite the great Chinese poet, Xie Bingxin:

 

“Out of my window the strings of the harp are struck, Oh, my heart! How is it so deeply entangled in the echoes! There is the limitless sound of the trees, there is the limitless brightness of the moon” ( 1 Xie Bingxin ; Fanxing (Crowded stars);verse 21; 1921 )

Dreamers know limitless “sounds”...and “limitless brightness”They seek and find miracles in a world of miracles, they sever doubts of uncertainty and always see in others, not the darkness of the night but the shining fringes of daylight streaming into their hearts .

Second: Embrace language

Do not underestimate the influence of the words you read, write and speak as you enter your post- graduate world for they are empowering. In a moment they can help; in less time they can hurt. They can bring peace and they can create turmoil. A few simple words, prose or verse, in an appropriate situation can have inordinate influence on you and on others. And if we focus on those words of poetry, I ask that you savor them, for through verse and meter, free of inhibition and full of expression, the poet’s voice can articulate sensitivity, empathy and solemnity and provoke much needed introspection and inner peace. Contemporary Pulitzer Laureate Poets, Rita Dove and Lisel Mueller have written respectively:

“By making us stop for a moment, poetry gives us an opportunity to think about ourselves as human beings on this planet and what we mean to each other.”2

and "Poems are not just feathers drifting into the Grand Canyon...They can make a real connection with another mind and heart..." 

Properly selected words can move the reader or listener to tears and awaken the primal emotions of joy, despair and hope. Hope becomes an essential thematic element in a poem for as human beings, we all have the capacity to bring hope to despair that is uniquely created by our humanity and our human conditions.

Elie Weisel, Holocaust survivor and prolific author, writes: 

“Just as despair can come to one only from other human beings, hope, too, can

be given to one only by other human beings” 

“The poet exploits the cadence of our language to feed the soul with beauty. ” ( Mary Jane Moffat, In the Midst of Winter, New York Vintage Books, 1992),xxiv )

The Universe of poetry is an important sphere for you in your personal and professional lives. I suspect many of you have discovered this already. As a physician I have encountered elation, desperation, birth, life, death, happiness, sorrow, fulfillment, disappointment. Poetry has been and continues to be my refuge when my stethoscope, scalpel and pharmacopeia can no longer heal. Many years of caring for the well being and the illnesses of patients and their families has taught me to accept that medical science in all its depth and possibilities is not precise and that the human mind and flesh are perishable. We are today steeped in myriad medical and scientific technologies that in themselves bring hope to previously hopeless conditions and pathologies. Yet there remains inexorable suffering and disappointment which may accompany the failures and tribulations of all new technologies. Their benefits may not be realized. Thus, the paradox of new technologies to cure and cause pain is real and evident. Poetry enables us to ask why even when we already understand how. It permits us all, when witness to the frailties of our humanity, to abet healing and resolve through the very core of what makes us human, our language and our personal emotions.

Third: Have a Philosophy

The philosopher Cicero wrote: “The Existence of virtue depends entirely upon its use” ( Cicero, De re publica )As you enter the post Temple University world, you will need a foundation of reason to guide you through your personal and professional lives and the diverse opportunities and challenges that lie before you. The bricks of this foundation will be your virtue, your integrity and your sense of right and wrong. No doubt, you will prosper but your prosperities will be measured by who you are and what good you bring to others, as much as by what you accomplish. Most of us are compelled by virtuous persons; we admire them, they teach us what is truly important in our lives. They become our mentors, our role-models- those who place wholesome values and selflessness on their daily agendas, and needn't struggle to carry them out. Throughout the routine that will become your personal and professional lives, you will be challenged, face doubts, meet uncertainties and question reason. The bricks of which I speak will support you during these times and surface the good you will bring through your life’s work. Aristotle, in Book I of his great treatise, The Nicomachean Ethics, writes:

 

 

“Every art and every scientific inquiry, and similarly every action and purpose, may be said to aim at some good. Hence, the good has been well defined as that at which all things aim.” ( Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics Book1 )

I have been fortunate to be taught by great mentors. They taught me science. They taught me Medicine. Above all, they collectively imbued that in my life I must engender a professional and personal conscience. Galen, the renowned ancient physician who lived around the year 150 BCE wrote: That the Best Physician is also a Philosopher. In my role as physician, I think about this often. Inherent in what defines the physician-patient partnership is an unfaltering responsibility of the physician and an unconditional trust by the patient. Together these bond the chasm between the vulnerable patient and the knowledge and experience of the physician; a synergy of the need for care and the privilege of caring. I believe the medical professional –indeed the professional in every discipline- must step back from each moment in his/her daily routine, and reflect on what he or she is doing, why it is being done and what influence it is having on his or other’s lives. This self-reflection, or mindfulness, is integral to professionalism for it encourages the formation of a philosophy of care and ethic of practice which in turns fosters self-examination and meaning, empathy and compassion. ( Professionalism is the basis of medicine's contract with society. It demands placing the interests of patients above those of the physician, setting and maintaining standards of competence and integrity, and providing expert advice to society )

 

Recently, I find myself increasingly engaged in dialog with my students and young faculty members about the privilege of being a physician, why we do what we do and how we can best help serve our patients. This is a most promising time to become a health-care professional and / or scientist, for there is in our immediate future enormous promise in human genomics, cancer therapies and other capabilities of advanced medical and scientific technologies. Yet, we must infuse this science with humanism and philosophy ( Humanism-“The concept that concern for human interests, values and dignity is of the utmost importance to the care of the sick.” American Heritage Dictionary ) , for in all that we do, it is of the utmost importance that we have concern for human interests, values and dignity. We need to assure that the benefits of our existing and future technologies are fully realized and that their expanding sphere of influence does not disenfranchise the patient, depersonalize the physician-patient relationship, alienate research from its ultimate reason and above all, that each innovation, each discovery, permeates and reaches every family in every global community.

Fourth: Emulate the scientists of the past; Be those scientists of tomorrow

To look forward, we must look backward. In each of your respective disciplines: Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics, Computer and Information Sciences and Geology, great genius has preceded you. Innovation has drilled down through layers of molecules and tissues, iron machines and giant comptometers, and peered through glass-lensed telescopes and microscopes. Innovation has flourished in those fortunate cultures that valued freedom of thought, creativity, personal expression, collaboration, and in those that recognized genius. Innovators of today reach their horizons on the ships of yesterday’s discoveries. Discovery and invention is accelerating more rapidly today than ever before. In 1865, Gregor Mendel presented his Experiments on Plant Hybridization and was branded the father of modern genetics. In 2003, 138 years later, the Human Genome Project was completed, the result of years of multi-disciplined collaboration. The first stem-cell transplant was performed in 1959. Last Month, just 54 years later, it was reported that a trachea was bioengineered from stem cells and transplanted into a 2 year old child born without a trachea. 3D Bioprinting, a tool of the new field of Regenerative Medicine “combines the synergistic potential of engineering and biology to create living human tissues that mimic the form and function of native tissues...” ( http://www.organovo.com/   

http://www.3ders.org/articles/20120730-gabor-forgacs-scientific-founder-of-organovo-recognized-for-pioneering-

work-in-bioprinting.html ) And, it is predicated that within the decade there will be replacement human organs that are ‘Bioprinted’ and personalized to a specific patient’s need. Invented by Gabor Forgacs, Professor of Biological Physics at the University of Missouri, Bioprinting has the potential to disrupt in a positive albeit surrealistic way the traditional medical, surgical and pharmacological therapies of many diseases. Professor Forgacs calls himself “ ...a theoretical physicist turned biological physicist, turned tissue engineer, turned entrepreneur".11 These very disciplines of modern science are the result of a new integration of all fields of science, bioinformatics, mathematics and the faculties of medicine. This is the excitement and promise that awaits you as you are granted your degree today. Your commencement is your inauguration: it is your beginning; your introduction into a world of change, challenge and opportunity. The integrity of our tomorrows will be fused with the promise of your intellect, your steadfast commitment to your dreams, your relentless pursuit of unfurled truths and a vigor to unravel the endless mysteries and marvels of the unknown. You and your generation are the fiduciaries of our future. Trust the Dyad of Science and the Human condition for as George Engle, the great 20th Century psychiatrist wrote:

"To know and understand...is a dimension of being scientific... to be known and understood is a dimension of caring and being cared for". 

( Engel GL. How much longer must medicine's science be bound by a seventeenth century world view? In: White KL,

editor. The task of medicine: dialog at Wickenburg. Menlo Park (CA): Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation; 1988:133-77.

(Conference on the Biopsychosocial Concept of Illness and Disease, 1987, Wickenburg, Ariz.)

Appropriate for an “Inauguration” is a poem and I have written a poem, dedicated to you, esteemed graduates, to your families and to your future which I would like to share with you. It’s prolog, are lines by Ralph Waldo Emerson:

To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.

Aspire and stand tall, Young men and women Upon this threshold of tomorrow. For fortunate, are those... Whose lives so fragile and in need, Whom in just being, so struggle To feel a sense of freedom From pain, malaise and hunger, And maladies Which through their years Steal their persona... Fortunate are those Whose lives will be touched by you.

For you have learned and witnessed, And now will teach and practice The tenets of what it means To give,

And live Your dream. With profound committal In your work and deeds, You will overwhelm the pity

 

Of physical agony. You will seek The truths of science, Solve enigmas Preserve eclogies Wisely make and use Technologies; -Even those yet revealed.

You will plant seeds of hope in gardens Disrupted by blight and sorrow. You will care when caring seems lost. You will cry when caring has lost.

You will smile when With hands you create and And with intellect, innovate... A promise for a time yet to come.

And in that time, You will see Through mists of uncertainties Which veil the world tomorrow, That with passion, skills and fervor, You can pursue cure and order For afflictions of the blameless.

As no greater worth is there Than for you to share what gift Rests inherent in your heart: Your passion for discovery; Your soul of science...

Your Art, Your sense of right and wrong. And above the rest, A righteous ethic that strives, Without pretense, To learn To think, contribute and create What is your very own, Lifelong.

Thank You and Congratulations!

© 2013 Michael R. Berman, M.D. All rights reserved










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