It is my honor today to deliver one of the graduate student convocation speeches before this incredible student body. Thank you to the Dean of the School of Nursing, Dean Linda Scott, the DNP Program Director, Dr. Pam McGranahan, the entire SoN faculty, staff, my fellow graduates and our support systems who have made these years everything that they were. Graduation is obviously a time of celebration! And it should be because we have accomplished so much. Whether you are graduating from the PhD or DNP program, we dedicated ourselves to earning our doctorate degree in nursing to advance health care through nursing innovation, leadership, and evidence-based practice Yet, graduation is also a time to reflect. Reflect on our experience because today is an amalgamation of every hard won battle, every loss, every long lecture day, OSCE exam, every simulation, every quiz, every initial discussion post and response, every scholarly project meeting and every clinical rotation we have ever done. Today is also the culmination of the challenges we collectively faced – COVID-19, social unrest, and a turbulent socio-political atmosphere. These highs and lows are what got us to where we are today. But the history of these past three, four, or even five years is not the past. It’s the present because we carry every experience, even the experiences before we matriculated into our programs to this very day.
Each of our journeys is a contribution to the mission and values of the UW-Madison, School of Nursing. My journey is one of feeling inadequate. I grew up a poor dark-skinned Black child on the west side of Chicago. Although surrounded by loving parents, siblings, and our community, I often felt like I did not measure up. I never felt I was the smartest, the most attractive, most masculine, and definitely not athletic at all at that time. I prayed to live in a better neighborhood with a nicer home, have lighter skin, and be a “normal” boy who subscribed to heteronormative, hyper-masculine behaviors that were palatable to my peers and community. I prayed for the return of my twin brother who died unexpectedly from an asthma attack at the age of 10. But despite my fervent prayers, each time I opened my eyes, none of those things changed. My Creator left me right there. And throughout my time in the doctorate program, I realized why. It was so that when I gained vision, strength, self-love, self-acceptance, confidence, and purpose that I could remember my experiences and mobilize them to support and uplift others. You may have felt the same way too, whether you faced or perpetuated any form of sexism, racism, microaggression, transphobia, xenophobia, any sort of trauma, or just simply not feeling like you were enough. We often may feel like we want to ignore those struggles and erase them – but doing so is a dead end. Own all of it, even if it was traumatic. Because it is once we reconcile and heal, that we are able to empathize, connect, transform the struggle into a passion for people and advocacy. All of our stories are diverse – just as the individuals we will encounter at the bedside or in academia. After owning our stories and experience, it enlightens us to empathize and use what we have learned in our doctoral program to continue to validate, amplify, and mobilize everyone’s stories, even those that may differ from our own to enact effective change. That is the profession we have dedicated ourselves to. Nursing has a long history of leading the way in advocacy and elevating vulnerable communities that have historically been marginalized and abandoned.
So, as we go forward as doctors in the nursing profession, let us celebrate, reflect, and then be purposeful in enlarging our understanding of ourselves and everyone that we may encounter so that their voices–their stories –are heard and valued. Because that is the true manifestation of advocacy.