Lift others as high as you lift yourselves

“Be happy, be successful and, always, always, be encouraging to others,” President Fuchs told spring graduates of the UF College of Medicine.

Lift others as high as you lift yourselves

Thank you, Dean Koch. It is wonderful for me to be here with the UF College of Medicine on this day of joy and celebration.

This is a day when we confer degrees, honor our incredibly accomplished students, recognize families and pay tribute to our distinguished faculty.

But it is also a historic day. It is historic because this is the medical school’s first in-person commencement ceremony since 2019. It is historic because vaccinations are steadily giving us the upper hand on COVID. But what’s truly, truly historic about this day is that you are graduating. You are graduating with your MD from the UF College of Medicine!

Take a moment. Look around. Think about what your presence here signifies.

This is an important moment in your lives. And if the pandemic has taught me anything, it is the need to be fully aware of moments like these that you will remember forever.

When I think of moments of the last year, I think of the moment I had my first COVID test, and they stuck that long swab up my nose to what felt like the back of my brain!

I think of those moments when people all over the world in lockdown played music, banged on pots and pans and shouted their thanks to doctors and health care workers.

I remember the moment when I first heard Dr. Mike Lauzardo, the head of UF Health Screen, Test and Protect and a professor in this College of Medicine, explain how we at UF would be able to live and learn with COVID. Hearing his calm and reasoned words lifted a heavy weight from my shoulders. It was the first time in months that I felt we didn’t need to be in lockdown, but we could fight back against the virus and we could live and learn in the midst of COVID, by wearing a mask, washing our hands, and watching our distance. I think of the moment earlier this spring when I first noticed students on slacklines back in the Plaza of the Americas.

Finally, graduates, I think of the moment when a smiling UF Pharmacy student gave me my first dose of the Pfizer vaccine, and the relief it brought me.

Graduates, you will always remember your own indelible moments from this indelible time in history. As you recall those moments, I think you’ll discover they have something in common.

I think you will remember those moments when people reassured you, or gave you hope, or inspired your optimism, as Dr. Lauzardo did for me.

Maybe it was a moment when a classmate or family member consoled or encouraged you. This pandemic has been such a powerful teacher of how much we depend on the love of others!

Or maybe you’ll think of a moment when a UF professor or staff member listened to you about a problem, or was encouraging, or expressed their faith that you could complete a hard assignment. I am so grateful to professors and staff for their dedication to students through this time.

Or perhaps you will remember a moment when you encouraged someone else -- or just devoted your full attention to them, truly heard them, and gave them caring words.

Graduates, you are leaving UF at an amazing time.

Yours is a time when the balance of power is shifting from viruses to humans as we learn how to reprogram molecules to develop vaccines in less than a year.

Yours is a time when artificial intelligence is becoming even more central to medical diagnosis and treatment. Here at UF, we have launched a university wide initiative in AI that includes every college and will impact curriculum and research across the university.

Yours is a time when we are learning to address inequities in our communities and nation with a greater focus and fervor than in any recent decade.

I’ve heard 2021 described as the beginning of the 21st century. I think that may be true. Carbonless electricity. Meatless meat. Driverless cars. Stateless cryptocurrency. Augmented reality. Wearable technology. Graduates, I’m jealous of you. I’m jealous of all you will do to make this century so much more.

As you depart our campus, I want you to know that I, and all of us at UF, are cheering you on to your own incredible moments.

The moment when you save your first life. The moment when you complete your residency. The moment when you establish or join a practice. The moment when your become a leader of your healthcare system, hospital or community. The moment when you welcome your own medical residents who just earned their MDs from the University of Florida!

But I also want you to keep in your mind those memories of the pandemic -- and how much it meant to you when someone was encouraging, as Dr. Lauzardo was for me during the worst months of the pandemic.

Be happy, be successful and, always, always, be encouraging to others. Lift them as high as you lift yourselves.

College of Medicine graduates of the Class of 2021, physicians, doctors, you have triumphed, and you have triumphed despite all the hardships of a pandemic. I can’t wait to see where you go and what you do next! Many, many, congratulations. Forever you will be a Florida Gator -- and please know it is always great to be a Florida Gator!