Speaking Words of Wisdom
May 26, 2022
by Amy Givler, MD
Do you remember your high school, college or medical/dental school graduation? Probably a bit, I suppose, but if you’re like me, those days are a bit of a blur. How about the graduation speaker at each of those events? Do you remember what was said?
No? Me, neither.
May is the month for graduations, so perhaps you’ve already sat through a graduation speech or two. I hope they inspired you. I hope you remember them. Graduation speeches, ideally, are not just for the young.
A good graduation speech contains nuggets of wisdom anyone can take to heart, not just the students graduating. I know this because I have heard, or read, just such speeches. So, if you, like me, were under-inspired by your own graduation speakers, here are some tasty tidbits you can chew on and digest.
(Photo: United Nations Photo)
Washington, D.C., 1982
My husband Don and I were medical students at Georgetown University when Mother Teresa was invited to address the college graduation. We were fortunate to get tickets to the event, in seats near the front, no less.
Mother Teresa made a powerful statement before she ever began speaking, and that statement was a visual one. On the platform, behind the lectern, sat the college dignitaries. Mother Teresa was surrounded by Georgetown administrators and faculty in their commencement regalia. Georgetown University President Father Tim Healy sat next to her. Father Healy received his PhD from the University of Oxford in England, and so he was wearing the bright scarlet Oxford doctoral robe. Mother Teresa was wearing sandals, a white habit and what was described in the Washington Post the next day as a “frumpy gray sweater.” Father Healy stood well over six feet tall; Mother Teresa was barely five feet tall. The contrast was striking—and I say it with no disrespect whatsoever toward Georgetown or toward Father Healy. I knew Father Healy and considered him a friend. However, it was a good reminder that integrity and power can come in incredibly different packages.
During Mother Teresa’s address, she exhorted the graduates to become “carriers of God’s love.” She reminded them they had been given much, and what they had been given was not to be hoarded but to be given away. She concluded her scripted remarks by saying, “Let us thank God for His love,” but then something remarkable happened. As she finished speaking, large raindrops began to fall from the sky. Her final words were delivered almost as an afterthought. She said, “And, let us thank Him for the rain.”
That was wisdom—“And, let us thank Him for the rain.” It’s easy to be positive when it is sunny and things are going the way we think they should. However, it’s a different matter when the rain comes and things aren’t going the way they “should.”
Scripture challenges us to cultivate an attitude of gratitude and contentment that transcends circumstances. To be grateful and content in all situations, even in the rain, is to say with Paul,
“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13, ESV).
The rain showers will come. I can expect them, plan for them, and even welcome them. “The rain” reveals my neediness, and what I need is Jesus Christ. May each of us lean on Him for strength in all our (inevitable) rain showers.
(Photo: George Bush Presidential Library and Museum)
Wellesley, Massachusetts, 1990
Although Wellesley College is my alma mater, I did not attend 1990’s graduation because I had graduated 10 years earlier. However, before the speech, I had heard a lot about it. Most of the country had. The reason was because an incredibly vocal segment of Wellesley’s students protested Barbara Bush being chosen to speak at graduation. This made the national news. According to those students, Wellesley College prided itself on encouraging women’s achievements, but what had Barbara Bush achieved? Her only qualification was being the wife of the President of the United States.
I remember thinking that being the spouse of the president was an ample qualification for speaking anywhere, but those vocal students disagreed. In fact, they were outraged. There were protests and threats of boycotting the graduation. This was many years before “cancel culture,” so the graduation proceeded with Barbara Bush giving the graduation speech.
Don and I waited with anticipation to hear what Mrs. Bush would say and how she would conduct herself in a hostile environment. As it turned out, she impressed everyone. She left her critics nearly speechless with her grace and poise.
As I read the transcript of her address, I was impressed by something she said as she was concluding her comments. She said, “Cherish your human connections…At the end of your life, you will never regret not passing one more test, not winning one more verdict or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a child, a friend or a parent.”
It struck me she was speaking not only to the women graduating from Wellesley, but to all of us. At the end of our lives, it will be our “human connections” that mean the most to us. Let us not allow the seemingly urgent things in our lives crowd out the truly important things.
E. A. Conway Medical Center, Monroe, Louisiana
Family Medicine Residency Graduation, Sometime in the 1990s
I did not attend this graduation, but my husband Don Givler was the program director of the residency at the time, and he tells the story best.
I don’t remember who the graduation speaker was supposed to be, but somehow we had miscommunicated and the speaker did not show up. Those of us at the head table looked nervously at each other for a few minutes as we tried to figure out what to do. In the end, it was Dr. Richard Cavell who rose to the occasion. He gave an inspired graduation address, and he gave it without any advanced preparation. This is what he said: “Remember who you are…and remember whose you are.”
First, Dr. Cavell said, remember “who” you are. You are a physician. He talked about the professional responsibilities of being a physician and the tremendous trust our patients place in us. It is not, he reminded all of us, a responsibility to be taken lightly.
Second, remember “whose” you are. To the graduating residents he said, you are a graduate of the Louisianna State University Family Medicine Residency at E. A. Conway Medical Center in Monroe, Louisiana. For the past 80 years our hospital has provided not only medical education, but also medical care for the underserved population of northeast Louisiana. The patients we care for at Conway are people Jesus called “the least of these.” They genuinely need healthcare, and often society has paid them little attention. Most of them have no other healthcare options. Dr. Cavell’s challenge applies to all of us: May we always keep a place in our practices, and in our lives, for “the least of these.”
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought for a price: therefore glorify God in your body” (NASB).
In the immediate context, Paul is writing to the Corinthians about their physical bodies. However, the implications for believers go far beyond our physical bodies. “You have been bought for a price.” That applies to every part of us—our mind, our soul and our spirit—not just our bodies.
When Paul introduced himself at the beginning of his letters to the Romans, to the Philippians, and to Titus, he chose to say this: “Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ.” Most of our English translations have tried to soften this, but it literally means, “Paul, a slave of Jesus Christ.”
We Americans are repelled at the idea of slavery, and for understandable reasons. Yet, if we were “bought for a price,” then we are slaves. In contrast, most of us have been taught since we were little, “You are the master of your destiny. You can make your own decisions. You can chart your own course.” By extension, we’ve also been taught, “You can decide what is best for you. You can decide for yourself what is good and what is evil.”
This may sound like freedom, but it is not biblical thinking. Biblical thinking says we are all slaves to something or someone, and if it’s not God, then it’s our own desires and passions. Biblical thinking says we Christians are bondservants—slaves—of Jesus Christ. We are “owned,” if we are following Jesus. He determines our destiny. He determines our steps. He decides what is best for us, what is good and what is evil.
So, who are we, and whose are we? As Christians, we are bondservants—slaves—of Jesus Christ. If we truly believe that, it will transform the way we think about ourselves, our world, and our calling as physicians. If we truly believe that, we will always keep a place in our practices, and in our lives, for “the least of these.”
Thank you, Don.
So, to recap:
- Thank God for the rain (Mother Teresa).
- Cherish your human connections (Barbara Bush).
- Remember who you are…and remember whose you are (Richard Cavell).
Very well written blog. The 3 summary points are worth remembering. Thank you.
Thank you, Ms. Amy for sharing!