May 2015 Graduation Address by Dr. Scott Morris
I am truly honored to be asked to speak to you today at your graduation. I love the University of Memphis and consider it a high moment to be here today.
I spend much of my life as a physician caring for the working uninsured in Memphis. On a daily basis, I make decisions that affect people's lives. I tell them they have cancer. I tell them what they read on the Internet does not mean they will grow three heads. I prescribe medicine. I help people stop drinking alcohol when it has taken over their lives. As I do this with people day after day, year after year, I get to know them, one human being to another.
Thelma Jones has worked hard her whole life. I don't know why she started doing this but, a number of years ago when she came for her visits, she began bringing not one but two homemade pound cakes. It was amazing how quickly my staff caught on when Mrs. Jones was in the house.
A few months ago, she arrived without any pound cakes. I knew there was a serious problem. She has lung cancer and she is not doing well. We have talked about her treatment, her family, and her life, and she has shared with me her wisdom. At this point, there is only one thing she asks of me and this is it – to find her dog, a large German shepherd named "Boomer," a good home after she is gone.
I tell you this story because you are graduating today and you have every reason to be proud of your achievement. You will forever be a graduate of the University of Memphis. Some of you will frame your diploma and hang it in a prominent place forever. Others of you will be like me – I literally have no idea, none, where that piece of paper is. But I do know that my education is what changed my life and gave me the chance to get to know Mrs. Jones and her dog, Boomer.
How many of you as children read the book, The Little Prince? If you haven't, consider this your last reading assignment for the University of Memphis. As the Little Prince learns about the meaning of life, he concludes that "It is with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye." What is essential is not something anyone will ever test you on. But it will have everything to do with what happens the rest of your life. It begins with, "Who has helped you become the person you are?" And I ask you now to think about that.
One of the graduates today happens to work with me at the Church Health Center. Jaukeem is from Macon, GA. He started out at a community college to become a veterinary technician. It didn't take. He dropped out because what was essential to him was the need to dance. He came to the University of Memphis and is graduating today with a degree in Dance Education. He teaches children at the CHC Wellness Center, a program we call "Movin' and Groovin'." He gets my wife all fired up and I confess he even gets me tapping my toe.
Jaukeem plans to try and make it as a dancer in New York and I am betting he does. But his mother, Tammy McFadden, who is here today, will be with him no matter what because she is also essential to Jaukeem. I asked him what he would want to say to her today. I pass this on to Tammy, but I believe others of you might say something similar to those essential to you. In Jaukeem's words:
"I have achieved a goal I have set for myself and I know you are happy for me. A goal that may not mean anything to anyone else, but it is where my heart has taken me. After dropping out of college, I didn't know where to go, but the University of Memphis was that stepping stone that led me in the right direction. Tell her I love her, but she knows that." So, Jaukeem has acquired a confidence in himself that I believe the University of Memphis has helped him to achieve. Never underestimate the value of confidence.
In life going forward, it will not be what any of you do that will determine your success in life. Remember what the Little Prince said – "What is essential is invisible to the eye." You do not have to do anything the world considers essential for people to love you. But what is essential requires the character needed to be trusted. It is essential to be a person who does not fear the truth and to believe that justice is more powerful than greed.
What really is most essential is the commitment to be present in the moment – to give your full attention to the person right in front of you. That is always the direction your heart is pointing. To ignore the past, to not be thinking about the future, to not be looking over your shoulder for someone more important, to not fake being fully present. You know what I mean, don't you? It is essential to see with the heart.
If you can do this, be fully present, you will be a success in business, in academics, in the arts, in medicine, in life. What is essential is invisible to the eye.
Thelma Jones never graduated from the University of Memphis. Boomer is so protective of her he might bite you if you made even a threatening gesture toward her. But they have taught me that the joy of life, which is really all that matters, is about one soul, without reservation, loving another.
I pray you leave the University of Memphis today with a lifelong commitment to find the essence of your life, which cannot be seen. I hope you know that joy, love, trust, justice, and truth, experienced one moment at a time, one relationship at a time, is at the heart of what we live for.
And I suggest that tonight you find Jaukeem and dance with him until the sun comes up tomorrow.