Words to Live By

Jonathan Shaw in Harvard Magazine:

“YOU ARE GRADUATING AT AN INFLECTION POINT in the history of health care,” Valerie Montgomery Rice, M.D. ’87, president and dean of the Morehouse School of Medicine, told graduates of Harvard Medical School (HMS) and the Harvard School of Dental Medicine in Thursday afternoon’s Class Day address. That same sentiment echoed throughout the virtual ceremony, as nearly every speaker’s remarks were colored by the experience of the pandemic, and by the knowledge that this year’s class of doctors and dentists would be entering a changed world. Nicholas Paul DeMeo, D.M.D. ’21, said that after the past year, he and his classmates “have only grown stronger in our mission to alleviate suffering.” Alumni Relations chair A.W. Karchmer, M.D. ’64, noted how COVID-19 had brought out the best in health-care practitioners but “exposed weaknesses and some of the worst aspects of our health-care system.” And Jamaji Chilaka Nwanaji-Enwerem, M.D. ’16, Ph.D. ’18, M.P.P. ’21, spoke of a newfound awareness: “We often reflect on the vulnerability of our patients, how we serve them, offering them strength in their moments of suffering,” he said. “But during this pandemic, when stockpiles of masks and other protective equipment ran low, new light was shone on our vulnerability.”

Montgomery Rice—whose daughter, Jayne Rice, M.D. ’20, graduated in the family’s living room during last year’s virtual Commencement—picked up these threads. Born and raised in Macon, Georgia, she recalled the culture shock of her arrival in Boston in the 1980s and the “small but instructive moments” at Harvard that yielded lessons about the same cultural and racial divides that were laid bare this past year, in COVID-19’s disproportionate toll on communities of color, and in the so-called “mask wars” often driven more by ideology than by science. She urged graduates to take seriously the idea of universal connection underlying public health: “COVID-19 has taught us that the health of each person not only affects the health of every person, but, literally, can bring the world to its knees. For the past year, the pandemic has shut down life as we knew it. We cannot ignore the fact that our individual survival is linked together in one humanity—no matter the color of our skin, our background, age, sexual orientation…. Every health inequity reduces the quality of life for everyone else.”

More here.