This month, we’re honored to share the graduate remarks delivered to the Class of 2023, College leadership, faculty, family and friends by during our Commencement Ceremony on May 17, 2023.
Commencement Speaker Spotlight
Ruth Hershey ’23
Graduate, Associate of Science in Nursing program
Graduates, here we are! We’ve made it to the finish line! Through countless hours of dedication, hard work, and sacrifice, we persevered. Well done! This has proved to us all that we can do hard things. And we will need that tenacity, for we are not only at a finish line but also at a starting line. We can’t see all that lies ahead, but the reality is that we have only just cut the ribbon, and the road in front of us stretches to endless possibilities!
There were definitely days when I wondered, “What have I done? Why did I commit to all this?” There were times when I was overwhelmed and wanted to give up. I’m sure that you can all relate. I guarantee there will be days ahead when we will feel that way again. So, what will give us the tenacity and dedication to stick with it even on the very difficult days? I want to take a few minutes to reflect and focus on the “why.” Why have we said yes to it all?
Ever since I was a little girl, I have wanted to be a nurse. When I was eight years old, I spent several nights in the hospital. I can still remember the two nurses who took care of me. They were so kind and loving. They engaged with me and made me feel special. They let me sign my name on the wall. And when it was time for me to be discharged, they brought me helium balloons which I kept in my room at home until they deflated and sank to the ground. This experience left an undeniable mark on me. I decided then and there that I wanted to be someone like my nurses, who cared for others and made them feel special.
Ten years later, in my senior year of high school, my oldest brother was in an accident. He suffered severe head injuries and spent six months in trauma ICU and inpatient rehab. I distinctly remember the ICU nurses who gave him such dedicated care, treated our family with compassion, and cheered for him whole-heartedly when he made each small step of progress. He needed care for many years at home, and the home health nurses left a great impression on me as they showed love to our entire family. After seven years, my brother passed away. This was an extremely painful season, but it has changed me for the rest of my life. Through it all, it grew in me a desire to be with patients and families in their darkest times, offering empathy and kindness, offering love and hope.
Everyone has a story. I’m sure that many of you have also had life experiences that were tremendously difficult, but they forged a great strength in you. Hardships that you have endured that developed inside of you understanding and empathy towards the struggles of the human race. Our work gives us the opportunity to constantly reach outside of ourselves and connect to other people. My hope is that we will see these other people, not as strangers, but as our mothers, our fathers, our sisters and brothers, our children, our own selves.
We have all heard of Mother Theresa who worked among the poorest of the poor in India. She served those who others deemed “untouchable.” She brought the homeless in off the streets, washed their bodies and gave them a dignified death. The sign above the bathtub where she washed them read, “This is my body.”
The Golden Rule. “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” It’s the world’s greatest moral code. A universal concept that is found in essentially every faith, religion and culture. Muslims say, “Not one of you is a believer until he loves for others what he loves for himself.” And Buddhists say, “Don’t hurt others with things that would hurt yourself.”
When Jesus was asked what the most important law is, He answered, “Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. This sums up the entire law.”
Make sure that you notice this command is to love others as you love yourself. Don’t forget to be kind to yourself as well. Take the time to do things that are life-giving for you. Know when you need to rest and recharge, for you cannot continue to draw from a well that is empty.
I return to the question why. Why have we sacrificed so much for these years of school? Why are we giving of ourselves to serve in the medical field? Because the most important thing we can do in this life is to Love.
Remind yourself to choose kindness and love when you feel tired and weary, frustrated and angry. Remind yourself when you are having “one of those days.” Remind yourself when you encounter grumpy clients or overwhelmed family members.
Every human interaction offers us the chance to make things better or to make things worse. Throughout our careers and our lives, we will have ample opportunities to choose kindness or callousness. What do you need to do in order to continue choosing kindness and not allow yourself to become calloused?
Remember, that being kind or being unkind produces a chain effect that continues on. When you encounter someone who is not treating you well, most likely it has nothing to do with you, but they have already been slammed into by another wave. Every person has a story. It is hurt people who hurt people. You have the opportunity and the honor to step into that story and help make it better.
Maybe you remember the movie from the 90s: Pay It Forward. It was a young boy’s idea of how we can change the world by showing sacrificial kindness to three other people. And those people, in turn, were to show sacrificial kindness to three more, who were each to show it to three more. The exponential impact went on and on, becoming very large, very fast. Never underestimate the power you have to change someone’s day, even someone’s life and the ongoing impact that will have.
I will close with a quote from Barbara Brown Taylor, author of An Altar in the World, where she speaks of what it means to be fully human. For in these occupations that we have chosen, we will have the opportunity to be fully human every day.
“Being fully human means learning to turn my gratitude for being alive into some concrete common good. It means growing gentler toward human weakness. It means practicing forgiveness of my and everyone else’s failures and being the first to say I’m sorry. It means giving of yourself to love and serve others.”
We have each made this valuable decision to serve in the medical field. Be proud of yourself! This is a happy and memorable day as we celebrate this milestone in our journeys! And when you are having “one of those days” remember why you have said yes to it all. Draw from the strength and empathy that has grown inside of you. Chose kindness and treat the person in front of you as you yourself would want to be treated. For the most important thing that you can do in this life is to Love: Love God. Love others. Love yourself.
Seeking People of PA College
Do you know an exceptional current student or alumnus whose experiences and accomplishments would help tell the PA College story? Or someone who has overcome an obstacle or reached a challenging milestone during their PA College experience? Please email your suggested names (and identify them in one of these categories) to Karen Jenkins. Self-nominations are also welcome!