Address to the Medical Class of 2005

Address to the Medical Class of 2005
Stephen P. Spielberg, MD, PhD, Dean
June 10, 2005
This afternoon, we begin a three-day celebration
for the Class of 2005 of Dartmouth Medical
school, celebrating their achievements here and
anticipating their contributions to the health and
well-being of our country and our world in the
years to come. We will hear a recurring theme of
service throughout the events of the next days, of
national and international needs for improved
knowledge of the biology of health and disease,
and the imperative for improved delivery of
health care to all those in need.
I had the great pleasure of attending our son’s
graduation from Princeton last week, and heard a
remarkable baccalaureate ceremony presentation
by the Nobel Laureate author, Toni Morrison,
that put the dilemma of 21st century graduates
into context. She said, in part:
“Don’t settle for happiness, because it’s not good
enough anymore. If happiness is the sole reason,
…pursuit of personal success devoid of
meaningfulness, free of a steady commitment to
social justice is more than a barren life; it is a
trivial one. Looking good instead of doing good… .
There is serious, hard, ennobling work to do.
…You are blasted by media designed to alter you
from citizens to consumers, from individuals to
groups, from a yearning for maturity to a desire
for eternal childhood. But you do not have to
accept the media,… or labels; you can refuse to be
labeled as generation X or Y, as minority or
majority, as red states or blue states, as this or
that class. Every true hero and heroine breaks
free from his or her [label or class]…to serve a
wider world”.
“Don’t settle for happiness” – a remarkable
challenge to life in our times. Yet I think there is
something different about our profession, about
medicine that can lead to a more integrative
approach to life, while still upholding the vision
that Toni Morrison so eloquently set forth. In our
early school years, we often used language
differentiating “school life versus social life” or
later “work life versus family life” as though we
should be parsing out aspects of life – toil in part,
fun in part. A more integrative, and perhaps
satisfying view of life is neither unique nor even
new. Isaiah, when challenged about how to find
meaning in the universe commented:
“Loosen the bonds that bind men, let the
oppressed go free, break every yoke. Share your
bread with the hungry, take the homeless into
your home, clothe the naked when you see him, do
not turn away from those in need. Then cleansing
light shall break forth like the dawn, and your
wounds shall be healed. …Your light shall shine in
the darkness, and your gloom shall be as
noonday.” To Isaiah, clearly, happiness,
satisfaction and meaning are integral to the very
process of doing good.
The hallmark of our profession is excellence,
achievement not in the service of selfaggrandizement or ego, but in service to those in
need. We find joy and happiness in the pursuit of
knowledge for its own sake, and even more in how
it can transform the human condition. We are
blessed to be able to use our intellect, to use the
education we are privileged to participate in, to
work, toil and struggle on behalf of our fellow
humans as our greatest source of joy. The serious,
hard, ennobling work we engage in as physicians
and scientists is indeed a source of happiness and
worthy of celebrating as we will over these next
And it is thus entirely fitting that this Awards
Ceremony celebrates excellence, achievement,
courage and joy in the adventure of medicine.
We hear much about “balance” in life these days.
I would posit that our professional lives per se can
provide much of that balance. But there is indeed
more to life. As a pediatrician I was early exposed
to the concept that we take our work, our patients,
the welfare of all children very seriously, and
ourselves not very seriously at all. It is okay in
our world to go on rounds with a pull-toy. We
also learned early how much to value and rejoice
in our own families as we helped others. I
congratulate you all, and wish you every success in
your integrated pursuit of excellence, service and