Commencement Address, Dr. Susan Letvak

Delivered Friday, Dec. 13, 2013, in the Greesnboro Coliseum

I am humbled to be standing in front of all of you – especially my esteemed colleagues -having won this teaching award.  But I first must let you all know that I won this teaching award because of my ONLINE  teaching skills-  so please excuse me if I seem a little startled to be standing here with all of you PHYSICALLY HERE with me … and this speech will be short… I have taught philosophy to our nursing doctoral students and never forget that Socrates gave long speeches.. and his friends killed him.

HS-6058 Susan LetvakToday is a day of celebration.  Like all of you parents in the audience I am also the proud mother of a Spartan graduate- my son recently graduated with a chemistry/science education degree and I bring you all hope because he is now happily employed as a teacher and finally off my payroll.

Also like many of you in this room, I was the first in my family to go to college and get a college degree.  I was fortunate to receive a ROTC scholarship so I could attend a four year college instead of having to go to a local hospital diploma program.  My grandparents came to the United States from Poland, poor and uneducated, hoping for a better life for themselves and their future children. While my mother was born here, she started Kindergarten barely able to speak English.   My father was a small town police man- but from my earliest memories I wanted to be a nurse.  My Dad would say, “Look at my life…  rotating shifts, working week-ends and most holidays and dealing with people in the worst of times, why would you want that?.. ” and I would say with a big smile, Oh but that IS what I want.   I am happy to say that this spring will mark 30 years as a registered nurse, and YES it is still what I want. While I now also carry the titles of Researcher, Author and Professor – when I meet somebody new and they ask me what I do, it is without hesitation that I only respond, I AM A NURSE and I am proud to teach nurses at UNC Greensboro.

So what can my 30 years in nursing teach you graduates?

  1. First, despite what your mother or grandmother told you about never going out with dirty, tattered underwear in case you get in an accident, I can tell you that  no nurse ever said “oh my- lets ignore the bleeding and come here everybody,  JUST LOOK at those underwear”
  2. Live a healthy lifestyle.  You can no longer blame exam stress as the reason to eat an entire package of oreo cookies and stay in the same pair of pjs for three days.  It is how you treat your body today that will determine how well you live later in life.  Nobody living in a nursing home planned on being there…
  3. Listen to your intuition: In 2005, Malcom Gladwell wrote an excellent book called Blink that’s all about the power of intuition, thinking without thinking, quickly figuring out what’s important and acting decisively.  Nurses hear all too often things like, “I knew I shouldn’t have gone up on that ladder…” Bottom line? Do not discount your first impression and listen to your intuition!
  4. Get a second opinion.  Nurses are often shocked at how trusting people can be- So when it comes to really important decisions with your health or with your life- take the time to hear at least one other person’s opinion so your decisions are fully informed.
  5. Tell the people around you that you love them- don’t wait until you are standing at someone’s hospital bed hoping they can hear you.
  6. And finally- listen to your elders- take the time to sit, talk and learn from the lessons they learned the hard way so maybe you won’t repeat the mistakes they made.  And one of the things they will likely tell you is that: life can be short and you need to remember your Dash- Linda Ellis wrote a poem that refers people to the dates that will mark their life and someday be on your tombstone. The first date is your birth and the last date your death. But while those dates may be remembered by your loved ones, what really matters is the dash between those years… the dash represents all the time you will spend on earth and it matters not how much we own, the cars, the house, the cash. What matters is how we live and love and how we spend our dash. Now that you are a college graduate, or just earned that higher degree, think long and hard: Are there things you would like to change?  For you never know how much time is left that you can still rearrange. If we could just slow down enough to consider what is true and real – and always try to understand the way other people feel. And be less quick to anger.. and show appreciation more …and love the people in our lives like we have never loved before.  If we treat each other with respect and more often wear a smile, always remembering that this special dash might only last a little while.  So when your eulogy is being read with your life’s actions to rehash… Would you be proud of the things they say about how you spent your dash?

Graduates of 2013 I challenge you to make the most of your dash.  Work to make your communities, our nation and the world a better place for everyone. Don’t forget those who got you here today.  And I congratulate all of you – may you use your UNCG degree to do something bigger altogether”