Penn Medicine Graduation Address
Updated: Sep 9, 2018
Good morning family, friends, faculty, and fellow graduates,
My name is Bridget Reilly Durkin. As a member of the Perelman School of Medicine Class of 2018, I hope to share a few thoughts on our exciting and challenging journey as students here. As at most important moments, words do not seem adequate. So I would like to begin by telling a story from another time when words were not enough.
I was seeing a young patient on my hospital rotation. She was exactly my own age and had recently been told she was dying from a relapse of her cancer. She was finishing a visit with her husband and toddler son when I arrived. Together we watched her husband disappear through the doorway, as their son squirmed in his arms, waving his chubby hands in goodbye. Then she turned to me. “I don’t understand. Why?” she said. I prepared myself for an impossible question. She surprised me by asking, “Why do you want to do this?”
I was speechless. I knelt beside her bed, and thought: Why did I want to be a doctor? For an instant, my mind swirled with the riveting pathophysiology of cancer cells growing out of control, the revolutionary immunotherapy being developed at Penn, the challenge of diagnosis, the delight of discovery. I took a breath, and in the silence of that moment, the answer was simple: Love. I told her, “It’s a privilege to witness the love you have for your family and for life, and to support that in anyway possible.”
Love is not a word we often use in medicine. But only love can match the demands placed on us as medical trainees. We are here today because of the love of our families, both our biological and our chosen ones. They have provided us immeasurable support. They have delivered home-cooked meals across state lines, stowed in freezers for long nights of study, or helped to ease the stress of debt. Our families have called us on our birthdays to remind us that, even on overnights in the VA emergency department, we are not alone. Our families, friends, and partners have listened to our stories expressing our fears and triumphs even when they didn’t understand most of-- let’s be honest, all of-- the medical jargon that has become a part of our everyday conversations. Still, they have reassured us and encouraged us to keep going.
We are here together because of the love of our classmates---this extraordinary group of colleagues with whom Perelman has united us on our journey. Our friends have baked us muffins for 8am small group, they have tutored us the night before an exam, they have visited us in our own hospital rooms, and have covered our phones on overnight call so we could have 30 minutes of precious sleep. Our classmates have seen us at our worst: crying in the stairwell after the loss of patient, or sitting silently in Law Auditorium after the loss of a friend. They have also celebrated our greatest joys: apple-picking, Spoof, weddings, the birth of a child, passing Step 1. Our colleagues have listened to us, cried with us, laughed with us. They have pulled us to our feet to begin again.
We are here in this auditorium because of the love of our faculty, administrators, and mentors. From the White Coat Ceremony to Match Day, the dedicated administrators of Suite 100 have been our advocates, our cheerleaders, our guides. Our residents’ and faculty’s love for their research, for their patients, and for us their students has inspired us and bolstered us to achieve more than we had ever imagined when we started at Perelman. They have included us in cutting-edge research, they have welcomed us into exclusive meetings, and they have given us the tools to diagnose diseases that we couldn’t even pronounce two-and-half years ago.
Those whose love has inspired and supported us include many who who are with us only in spirit today: grandparents, parents, friends, classmates, mentors, patients.
Because of this love, we have accomplished more than we could have ever dreamed of alone. Because of this love, we will go out and accomplish more than we can even dream of today. With this love, we the Perelman Class of 2018 enter the world as leaders of healthcare for our generation. We will discover groundbreaking innovations that will halt the progress of our patient’s diseases. We will develop curricula that will change the way medical education is taught and physician wellness is conceived. We will serve as public health experts, political advocates, and medical system CEOs. We will carry forward this love, in the tradition of healers past, present, and future, to honor all that we have been given.
Words fail the significance of this occasion. So, as we look forward to our residency, I would like us to pause for a moment of silence to honor the extraordinary love that surrounds today.
Thank You on behalf of the Class of 2018!