Several years ago I was asked to give the graduating commencement speech for a local school of nursing in Pittsburgh. I can remember talking with many, many new nurses and parents after who were very inspired by my speech. Knowing that this is the time of year again for new graduates, I wanted to share that speech with you to hopefully inspire you too as you begin your journey into the wonderful world of nursing.
When I was preparing to give this speech, I though of all the ways I could start. After all, the words used at the very beginning typically set the tone of the speech and either gets the audience attention or gives them an opportunity to get comfortable for a quick doze. There are the customary ways to begin, “It only seems like yesterday that I was in your shoes, etc”. Or the “if somebody were to tell me when I was graduating as a nurse that I would someday be asked to give a commencement speech, etc.” Of course, neither felt right. So when I browsed the Sunday paper and saw an article by Meghan Daum, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times, on memorable moments during commencements, I read something that did feel right and wanted to share with you.
First Lady Michelle Obama gave a commencement speech at the University of California, Merced, a new campus in Northern California. Here is how she started and how I would like to begin. “Remember that you are blessed. Remember that in exchange for those blessings, you must give something back.” She then quotes Marian Wright Edelman (she is a livelong advocate for disadvantaged Americans) who said, “’Service is the rent we pay for living…it is the true measure, the only measure of success.’” I can’t think of a better profession that truly amplifies these quotes than nursing. And so, I can’t think of a better way for you all to start your journey into professional nursing thinking about the blessed role you play in servicing others.
As a nurse, we are expected to care more about our patients than we do for ourselves.
As a nurse, we inconvenienced every day that we go to work.
As a nurse, it is an expectation that we go above and beyond for our patients and sometimes their families at the expense of our own needs.
But, I promise you this…the blessings you give to your patients will be returned to you tenfold. You have an incredible opportunity to make a difference in somebody’s life every day that you go to work.
How do we impact the lives of our patients? We impact their lives with our voice. Nurses have power in their voice and when we execute that power, we can change the course of somebody’s life. There is talk that nurses do not feel they have a voice – that they don’t have any power and are helpless to create change. How many of you have heard other nurses adopt that type of defeatist attitude? I’m a numbers girl. Let me share a statistic with you. There are approx. 600,000 physicians in this country – but there are more than 3.1 million nurses. Just imagine if we all got on the same agenda – creating a healing environment of our patients and a healthy work environment for each other?
We could move mountains.
So, as you begin your journey into professional practice, I want you to remember that you are blessed and that you do have a voice. It’s not enough to have a voice but you need to exercise it. Get involved. Once you are through the torture chamber of orientation and those precious first 6 months, I want you to kick it up a notch. Get involved. How do you get involved, read the literature, ask questions, challenge the status quo, join a professional nursing organization, sit on a committee that is action oriented, go back to school. Only by getting involved and having a voice can the nursing profession truly be the change agents and patient advocates that our customers expect us to be.
Oh, and by the way, take a look around the room at each other. They are your customers too. Take care of your fellow nurses as you would your patients.
Thank you for choosing to become a nurse! I'm cheering for your success!