Remarks by Robert I. Grossman, MD, Dean and CEO
May 13, 2010
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. So…you did it!!! I’m so proud of you!!
Today, you officially join an ancient and noble profession. I know all the faith and effort and hard work it took to get here, and I salute each and every one of you for your extraordinary achievement.
This is also a very special day for all those who have helped you reach this point—your families, your friends, and your teachers. And I’m sure you’d like to take this opportunity to thank them.
Commencement is typically an occasion to meditate on the significance of success. Today, I’d like to turn that tradition on its head… and explore with you instead the importance of failure. Now, if you look back over my life, you might think I’ve chosen to talk about failure because I’ve been so good at it!
- There was the early “triumph” of the rabbi informing my parents that my knowledge was—and I quote—“too meager to be adequately prepared” …for my Bar Mitzvah!
- There was my abysmal early track-record at getting my research funded. I probably wrote a dozen grants, over several years, only to get turned down again and again. I could tell you that the reason was that I was trying to pursue a technology—MRI—that was still in its infancy. But the fact was, I just couldn’t get funded. I distinctly recall my precocious 7-year-old son predicting, in the mid-80s, that Ivan Lendl would win Wimbledon before I ever got a positive reply…. And as tennis fans know, Lendl never did win Wimbledon!
- I still remember reading the pink sheets (as the NIH critiques were then called) where a eviewer indicated that I was not an expert in magnetic resonance imaging and that veryone already knew everything about the appearance of stroke on MRI. That was in 1983, by the way, before the technology had even been implemented in most medical centers. In the course of my career, I was also turned down –and in some cases not even interviewed—for positions, including department chairmanships, that I felt highly qualified for.
In other words, if things have turned out pretty well for me, it’s certainly not because I was a fast starter! Instead, I believe it’s because I learned from my disappointments and missteps. And I’d say I did two things right: I always tried to recognize when I did make a mistake, so it wouldn’t take