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Fall Convocation

Fall Convocation Archives: Garson Speech

Dr. Arthur Garson, Jr.
Convocation Address - University of Virginia
October 26, 2007

Thank you, Mr. President.

Mr. Rector, Mr. President, there is a line from the deans’ and provosts’ play book that says “Never follow John Casteen to the lectern.”  You will never sound as good.  Well, we now have a corollary – “If he is introducing you, you HAVE to follow him to the lectern.”

Parents – your children are extraordinary.  They are your children – but they are no longer children.  You have supported them in so many ways and I am sure you expect them to return the favor – and pretty soon!

Professors -- I will bet these students and many others have taught you so much more that you have taught them.  Sure is the case with me – but in my case that’s easy.

And now to the students – how about giving your parents and professors a big round of applause. Students – amazingly smart students – you have accomplished so much.  Many of us on this podium joke about not being able to get into the University of Virginia now – it’s no joke – and to do as well as you have is – TOTALLY AWESOME.

The focus today is on you, and that is appropriate – but for the next few minutes, let’s think about the following phrase: “IT’S ABOUT THEM.” Who is THEM?

Let’s think together – in addition to those we have just thanked – think about your fellow students – I’ll bet several sitting right here with you – that have helped you – and that you have helped --  in the last two years here.  Just pause for a few seconds and think of a few names. Now I want you to think a bit broader on “It’s about them.” In fact, if you would like to think of a great definition of the word “public” – guess what – that definition could be:  “IT’S ABOUT THEM.”

Mr. Jefferson imagined his University as the great public – NOT in terms of green painted cinder blocks and second-rate professors who couldn’t make it in the privates.


Mr. Jefferson founded this university with a unique mission – to educate the informed citizens and leaders that a democratic society required if it is to flourish.  His and now our -- “public” university instills in every person here the notion of an outer directed mission, one that focuses on preparing its students to become public minded citizen leaders – preparation for a public life: In that way, we will always be the country’s premier public university, IT’S ABOUT THEM,-- the public.

As part of our Commission on the Future of the University, we have set three strategic priorities, and I would like to share with you briefly how each one can be thought of in terms of being about THEM.

The first priority is “The student experience” – in addition to the outstanding courses we have to offer in so many areas and especially the strength in liberal arts, humanities and the performing arts, one of the most important  parts of our student experience is leadership.

You all lead in so many ways already, whether it is those on the honor committee or those chairing committees or captaining teams, and we plan on increasing the formal teaching of leadership in a number of ways including new courses and new undergraduate involvement in leading public service projects in conjunction with the new Batten School of Leadership and public policy; But there is also informal leadership that you practice every day.

Leadership at any level can be thought of as 4 words – “We’re going there with passion.”  Think about “going there” – a leader must have the vision to know where to go but also the operational sense to know how to get there.

How about passion – did you ever see a boring leader – NO.

But finally about “We’re” going there with passion.  Leaders don’t lead by themselves – leaders must lead with the group, understand the group and then -- go there.  Well by now you know what’s coming next:   IT’S ABOUT THEM.

Who are we talking about here? – Think of Martin Luther King, Jr.  You have all heard his “I Have a Dream” speech – he knew where he wanted to go, how to get there and was sure passionate – but think about the crowd filling the entire Washington DC mall – it was about THEM.  Their freedom, their participation.

Yes, I don’t expect more than half of you to be in that position to be able to give a speech like that to that many people – but you get the point – he was looking outward.  But every one of you can do the same even in small groups this week-  take the class somewhere with words or with your feet – be passionate about it.  That’s all I’m talking about.

Our second strategic priority in the Commission is to enhance international education, research and service at home and abroad. My very own first experience giving an international lecture was just at the end of my training in pediatric cardiology –taking care of children with heart disease.  My boss was revered throughout the world and so was invited all over the place. Well, he didn’t want to go to Indonesia – so I got sent.

I got off the plane – all excited, got through customs – and there was a chauffeur waiting outside with a sign “Dr. McNamara” – my boss.  I went over and introduced myself – he frowned – but the real frown came from the occupant of the limousine – who was the Health Minister of Indonesia!

She hid behind a newspaper for the first few minutes of our trip into the city – I decided to strike up a conversation – so I asked through the newspaper, “How many pediatric cardiologists are there in Indonesia?” “Eight,” she replied. “My goodness, eight for the whole country?” I said.  “How many do you need?” “None”.  She said.

That sure was a great experience and she was right: children with heart disease was the least of their problems. They had and still have a tremendous problem with public health -- drinking water and malaria, IT’S ABOUT THEM , their needs…not ours.

Our third strategic priority for us is science and technology – both research and teaching. The first patient I took care of as a pediatric cardiology fellow was a cute 5 year old girl who had just come out of heart surgery to repair her heart.  She had been born a blue baby.

I was covering the first night and had met her parents on rounds.  They had said, “Take care of her, doctor, she is all we have.” About a half hour after that, her heart stopped – and yes, just like ER, we pounded on her chest  -- someone yelled “clear” and we shocked her back to life.  For a few minutes, she was better.

I took those few minutes to go speak with her parents – they cried and I did my best to comfort them.  Her heart stopped a total of three times that night – each time we applied the SCIENCE of medicine -- and I practiced the ART of medicine with her parents.  By morning, we had her stabilized – computers could do the science – but I found the art of medicine so much more satisfying and something that doctors will always have the pleasure of doing.  IT’S ABOUT THEM, the patients, the families.

I saw her every week and then every month.  I went to her grammar school graduation and she was beaming. When she was 16, she fainted twice and we found a heart rhythm problem – but we got that under control –with a very expensive medicine, but it worked like a charm.  Her high school graduation was terrific!  We stayed in touch after that.

Then one Sunday morning when Ginny was 19 and a half, her mother called and was hysterical – “We’ve lost her!”  Her mom had found her dead in bed that morning. When we pieced together the story, she had never refilled a prescription for her expensive medicine for the last six months – when her Medicaid ran out.  The government program had paid for her medicine, but no more.  And all we could guess was that she was trying to save her family the money.

Well that changed my life – and I have been working ever since for health reform so that people can have health insurance – preventing so many needless deaths and saving so many precious lives: IT’S ABOUT THEM – those 47 million individual stories of what happens when you don’t have health insurance.

So as I promised, we have defined a lot of “THEM’S” from your parents, to your study friends, those you lead in committees and small groups, those who live overseas, the Ginny’s of the world that you help and, in fact the broad public.


But let’s come back to today –– IT’S ABOUT YOU!  The ways you have already done so much and we are all so proud of you!

Go lead ‘em HOOS!