May 2012

How Passionate People Can Change the World

Yesterday, the School of Medicine celebrated our 170th graduation, where I shared some thoughts with the students about how passionate people can change the world. Because the theme really applies to everyone, and because it involves some of my deepest beliefs, I wanted to also share these thoughts with all of you.

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.

You MADE it! What a fantastic day this is!

And my guess would be—remembering back to the day when I was in your shoes, waiting to get my diploma—that you feel some combination of euphoria…validation…and relief! No?

I suspect—and hope!—that there’s another emotion swirling around in you right now: gratitude…toward those who have believed in you and supported you along the way—your families…your friends…and your teachers.

I think you’d agree that today is their triumph, as well as your own…so let’s take a moment to thank them.   

Many of you, I know, overcame major obstacles to get to medical school. And all of you worked incredibly hard to get through it.
To me, though, the most telling thing of all is that you signed up before all those economic bubbles burst—while huge numbers of your peers were lured by the apparent promise of “instant megabucks.”

You wouldn’t be sitting here, in other words…if you weren’t propelled by a profound desire to make a difference with your life.
In the next few minutes, I’d like to share some thoughts with you about what it will take to actually do that.

Intelligence…creativity…opportunity…and even luck all help shape a life of achievement.

But none of them explain why some people “get there”…while so many others—starting with similar (or even more impressive) assets—don’t.

How many people set out at top speed—but forget they face a marathon, not a 50-yard dash?

How many take a shot or two at a glorious dream—and when the attempt falls short, simply throw up their hands and forget it?

And how many others gradually let the forces of inertia wear them down?

All of those life-trajectories are familiar…and, I suppose, understandable. But they rarely lead to accomplishments that mirror the dreams one started out with.

So what is it that allows certain individuals to defy the “gravity” of life—and hold fast to what they set out to do?

In my eyes, the deciding factor is…passion.

Now, passion, for many people, is a flamboyant trait. Think flamenco, for example.

And of course, it isn’t always positive—far from it! Soccer hooligans are passionate. Political extremists, lord knows, are passionate. And as we all know, most of history’s greatest tragedies have been set ablaze by passion run amok.

The kind of passion I’m talking about is obviously about creating, not destroying. It’s about unwavering—“un-de-rail-able”—commitment and determination to rise to the very best of oneself. 

From Sir Laurence Olivier to Meryl Streep, the great performers have it.

So do the great athletes, including amateurs like the four oarsmen David Halberstam described in