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You Are Courageous

December 2021

Commencement Address to the Middle Georgia State University School of Health and Natural Sciences Class of 2021, written for Stephen J. Daugherty, CEO of Piedmont Macon Medical Center.

Image by Joshua Hoehne
You Are Courageous: Project


It is my honor today to deliver the commencement address for this incredible group of healthcare graduates. Being here right now, I am reminded of the last time I was on this stage - in 2017. Some of you were just graduating high school at the time and were looking forward to college and to preparing for a career in healthcare. All of you probably had a picture in your mind of what the next few years would look like: you had a plan for your studies, for your career, for what you’d be learning and what you’d do with that knowledge.

Of course, those plans – like all plans - were made without knowledge of what would soon be waiting for us all. The past two years have demonstrated just how quickly and completely the world can change. Right in the middle of your studies, the world was turned upside-down as we navigated the difficulties presented by COVID-19.

This pandemic has taught us all so many lessons. We’ve learned the value and the preciousness of human connection, the importance of being there for one another, and the fragility of the togetherness we might have previously taken for granted. We’ve learned shared responsibility to help keep one another safe. But for today’s graduates, I think the most important lesson is that helping others is one of the most vital callings that one can answer.

I say “calling,” because that’s what healthcare truly is – and that fact has never been more apparent. A calling is more than a job, more than just a way to earn a living. We’ve watched as the pandemic shone a spotlight on the necessity of a strong healthcare system – and on the sheer bravery and selflessness of the healthcare workers who have taken care of our families, friends and neighbors when loved ones were unable to be there. On our best days, we’ve given up sleep and meals and time with family. On our worst, we’ve lost patients, lost colleagues, and lost loved ones to the ravages of COVID-19.

And what’s remarkable is that you’ve all seen the amount of heavy lifting and the level of sacrifice that is required from our healthcare professionals – and you’ve still raised your hand and volunteered to answer that call. To make a positive difference in others’ lives, regardless of the cost to yourself. 

As your celebrations continue and as you start taking the next steps in your career, I’d like for you to remember a few things:

You are not alone. You are part of a family that spans the entire globe. In the past two years, the doctors and nurses and therapists and technologists and countless others who make up the world of healthcare, no matter where they practice, have united like never before to fight a common enemy. Our strength comes from one another, from mutual support and collaboration, and from the knowledge that we’re not in this fight alone. Keep the connections you’ve made, make new connections at every new stop, and never be afraid to lend a hand, because you may need a hand in the future.

You are more than a caregiver, you are a source of empathy, dignity, and humanity. As Hippocrates, the “father of medicine,” said “Wherever the art of Medicine is loved, there is also a love of Humanity.” That love of Humanity transcends borders and politics, societal and cultural differences, and is bigger than the day-to-day conflicts that seem to be on the increase. To be a healthcare professional is to care for all people equally, period. It is to be present with patients in the most tender and most painful moments of their journey, from the time they’re born until their journey’s end. It is to remember that we are all deserving of a healthy life, and to let no other concern stand between you and carrying out that mission. At Piedmont, we talk about what we call our “Piedmont Promise” – our belief that every patient who walks into one of our facilities should be cared for in a genuine, respectful, and heartfelt way. I ask that you, as new graduates in this field, remember that promise – regardless of where you end up.

You are an innovator. We rely on standards and guidelines and our shared knowledge and expertise to define what we call a “standard of care” for patients, but the COVID crisis has caused the healthcare sector to experience dramatic change. Being innovative, you’ve adapted to these shifts, embraced change, and pivoted when needed. You’ve learned new technologies and protocols, and I challenge you to help sustain the culture of innovation spawned by the pandemic as you move into the workplace. Never get comfortable with the status quo and always remain agile.

Most of all, remember that you are courageous. To know that your intended path will continue to involve unexpected challenges, and then choose to walk it anyway shows a remarkable amount of bravery. Long before you made your first clinical rotation, or handled your first lab assignment, you showed courage just by making the choice to study healthcare. Now that we’ve lived with this pandemic, that courage is on even more prominent display. While most of the world was asked to stay inside, to stay away, to retreat from the disease that had us all so frightened, you were asked to step up, to mask up, and to vax up. You were asked to walk directly into harm’s way in your service to others. You’ve seen what one monster looks like, and you have not let that dissuade you from lining up to fight the next one. Let that courage continue to guide you on your course, and life will reward you in unexpected ways.

I am unbelievably fortunate to work each day with some of the most dedicated and hardworking people I’ve ever known. I’m sure that if you polled those who are in my position at every hospital around the world, they’d say the same of their own colleagues. And I am unbelievably proud to be standing here today to congratulate you on behalf of that worldwide family of caregivers. 

You have made an incredible choice, one that will make a difference to thousands of people over the course of your career. And by continuing that course despite the unimaginable challenges you’ve faced as a student and a caregiver during the past two years, by persevering in the face of the largest crisis our world has faced in living memory, you have demonstrated your resiliency and commitment to serving others. And on behalf of all of us who may one day be in your care, I say thank you.

Congratulations, graduates – we thank you for you service.

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