By: Ryan Kelly
With graduation right around the corner, pre-meds everywhere are taking inventory. You’re looking back - reflecting on your favorite memories and funniest stories from college. And of course, you’re looking forward - wondering what the future will hold for your medical aspirations. For many of your peers, graduation means the end of school forever, but if things go your way, college will just be the primer for bigger things.
Between the uncertainty of graduating and the anxiety of applying to medical school in the coming months, commencement can be a stressful time for pre-meds.
Luckily, we’re here to share some wisdom and humor that should help you to relax and remember what’s most important as you face the challenging path ahead.
Comedian Lewis Black, most known for his work on The Daily Show and The Big Bang Theory, gave a hilarious and inspiring commencement speech at UC San Diego in 2013. Although he keeps to his normal shtick by making sardonic comments about social security and health insurance, his speech is unusually pleasant and uplifting. Black, who typically plays the “angry comic,” has a rare moment of softness as he tears up toward the end of his speech.
There are many great tidbits from the speech, but we’ve compiled the advice we think is most important for graduating pre-meds to hear.
“Your sense of humor will be your life preserver in what can definitely be a veil of tears. Relish it. Cultivate it. It will keep you sane in the midst of the madness you will encounter nearly every day of your life. It is vital to your existence.”
Humor is an essential tool for future physicians when interacting with patients and staff. The hospital environment can be grim, but a little humor goes a long way in brightening one’s outlook.
“The idea of ‘multitasking’ - it’s not real! If you’re on your phone and reading an email at the same time, you aren’t doing either of them. It’s not because I’m old and I can’t do it; it’s because I’m old and know it’s a crock. The brain isn’t built that way. You can only be in one ‘now’ at a time.”
As a doctor, you must give individual moments and people your full attention. Technology increases efficiency, but this progress should not come at the expense of quality, kindness, or our sense of humanity.
Many pre-meds we encounter come from families of doctors or have parents who dream of their children becoming physicians. There’s nothing wrong with these circumstances, as long as the students themselves feel their own sense of commitment to the field. As Black reminds us, we cannot live fulfilling lives in the name of someone else’s dream:
“Do something you love doing - not what your parents want you to do. I know they paid money for many of you to have this education, but that doesn’t buy your life. It’s your life, not theirs. You’re the one who has to live with it.”
“You are now entering a world filled to the brim with idiots. Since there are so many idiots out there, you may actually start to think you’re crazy.”
Black pulls no punches about the opposition you’ll face from people who don’t believe in a brighter future. He recognizes how hard it is to combat negativity and small-mindedness, but also reminds us that helping others, even in a small way, is a way to help ourselves:
“Remember, when you make the world a better place for everyone, you’ve made it a better place for yourself. A lot of people don’t agree with that. They [pause] are idiots.”
We hope you’ll keep Black’s advice in mind as you walk off stage and flip the tassel on your cap. If nothing else, we hope it provides you with a few much-needed chuckles during this busy application season.
Lewis Black commencement speech: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GCP8OHq7w4Q