Award-winning Journalist Ann Curry delivered the commencement address for USC’s doctorate of medicine students
By: Mollie Barnes
More than 150 students in regalia walked across the stage to receive their diplomas on Saturday. All of them had one thing in common: they all had to overcome many challenges to become scholars, doctors and leaders in medicine. Everyone in this graduating class navigated the challenge of graduate school during the pandemic, moving classes online and doing their first hospital rotations in the midst of a global health crisis.
“The pandemic hit as you were in step one your clerkship year, and you never once backed down,” said Dean Carolyn Meltzer. “You acted with dedication, flexibility, and courage. COVID-19 has taught us all in new ways what sacrifice and community means. It reminded us what being a physician truly requires.”
While the last few years of school had certainly been difficult, Saturday’s commencement ceremony was a time to celebrate overcoming those difficulties. Award-winning journalist, Ann Curry delivered the commencement speech at the Galen Center. As a war correspondent, Curry is no stranger to dealing with human suffering.
She asked the new doctors, “How in a job that deals with human suffering can you endure what you witness? How do we heal the cracks that open up in us and instead rise to face the challenge, over and over and over again?”
She advised them it is simply impossible to be perfect, and that they must take care of themselves emotionally and physically first.
“It is this fight to stay true to the highest ideals of your profession that will make you better, more empathetic doctors, as it has made me a better journalist,” she said.
Julianna Paul, MD, was selected by her peers to deliver the students’ commencement speech. Paul has previously received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from USC, but said that her experience at the Keck School was more intimate and became the period she was most active in school extracurriculars. As a medical student, she helped form the Social Justice in Medicine Coalition with two other students. She, along with Katie Bick and Kairav Sinha, advocated for the removal of the race modifier on a measure of kidney function as a lab value at LAC+USC and Keck hospitals, an accomplishment Paul said epitomizes the work she did in medical school. Next year, she’ll go on to work at USC as a resident in psychiatry.
“[This class] is a multifaceted, well-rounded, and to use my favorite word, iconic, group. It’s made this experience mean more than just the road to a degree,” Paul said in her speech. “In addition to our clerkship commitments, we protested police brutality, and worked on anti-racist initiatives, volunteered at vaccine clinics, and created ways for patients to virtually connect with loved ones to alleviate some of the isolation felt in the hospital.”
“It is this fight to stay true to the highest ideals of your profession that will make you better, more empathetic doctors, as it has made me a better journalist.”
– Ann Curry
Her speech chronicled the tragic loss of fellow student, Cordell Heckel, who died in year three of their program.
“Today as we celebrate such a joyous occasion, we of course cannot forget him,” Paul said. “We will choose to honor him every day by making the most of our MDs and our lives.”
Both journalists and doctors can be haunted by what they witness in their careers, Curry said in her speech. But she said the challenge is to stay human-centered in the approach to medicine.
“Given the intense and ever-increasing pressures in both our professions to work quickly despite exhaustion and sleep-deprivation, it can feel impossible to accomplish,” Curry said. “And yet, when we succeed in pushing, not just ourselves, but the places where we work, to allow us to do the jobs we are trained to do with humanity, we are more effective.”
Curry sent the graduates off with a reminder to be proud of themselves “for choosing to become forces for good.”
“You will always remember the people you tried to help,” Curry said. “You may realize that being allowed to be with people in their darkest moments is a rare privilege. You may understand that just having tried to help has value.”
You can watch the full video of the event HERE.