My Graduation Speech: Let’s Walk Toward Our Dreams.
Ladies and gentlemen, graduating class of the extraordinary year of 2020, I’m not here to give a speech.
But stuck as we are in the madness of this COVID-19 year, like a sailor in a raging ocean, one finds oneself succumbing to the bittersweet pressure of memories and dreams. So our last hope facing this storm of emotions is resorting to the power of words.
As we stand at the end of our journey with LAU Medical Center-Rizk Hospital, my advice to you (excuse me, Dr. Mokhbat, for saying this, but): Remove your masks!
Yes, you heard me right.
Remove your masks.
Today every one of us deserves to show his face. Let the world know who we are.
Wait a minute!
Who are we?
Plato, Darwin, Freud… they all have their theories. But for me, we are the sum of all our journeys, all the people we met, the conversations we had, the books we read, the fights, fails, joys, mentors, lectures, duties, surgeries, fears, dreams, brothers, friends, patients… you got my point?
With all those varying factors, certainty is dead.
Having spent most of our days in our medical center, we are the sum of what we lived in our hospital’s wards.
And it has nothing to do with social distancing (sorry, Dr. Mokhbat, again).
Brothers and sisters of the graduating class of the epic year of 2020, I’m not here to give a speech. I’m not here to dwell on change.
What I’m trying to do is tell you about our memories and dreams, and beg you not to let the world or anyone change who we are.
In memory lane, steps are taken by remembrance.
So remember, my friends.
Remember the faces we saw in the hospital. The faces of those in pain, the cries of worried parents, scared daughters and sons. Remember that they had no masks on, and the first test we had to go through in the numbered rooms was to see through all those eyes deep into the core of human value.
Remember the first patient who cried in front of you? You promised to make him smile before your shift ends.
Remember the first scream you heard in the corridor of the fourth floor after learning that someone died in the ICU? You couldn’t hide your tears, and you went there to show the family that you share their grief, even though you might not have known what to say.
Remember the first time you had to do CPR and you started praying and praying, dear God, please let him live, even though they told you it is enough, let’s stop? You went on, just a few more minutes, maybe it will work. I don’t care if he is very old. I want to keep going.
Remember when you used to tell your doctor that you didn’t know how to do it but you are ready to learn and ask for help?
Remember the gratitude you had for everyone around you from the cleaning team, the technicians, nurses, doctors, teachers…?
Remember the excitement we had when we held a cinema night to collect funds for a poor baby patient? The efforts we put to rehabilitate the prison in Aley, and build a free clinic in Nabha? The joy we felt when we freely examined all those people in Zahle, East Beqaa, Karm el Zeytoun, Burj Hammoud, Baalbeck?
Remember the fun we had together playing basketball, football, trivia night, discussing literature and movies, organizing trips…?
In the final stop in memory lane:
Remember the compliments you received.
Learn what you can from the insults, then forget them.
Forget them forever.
If you managed it, please tell me how.
In the kingdom of dreams, our dreams, hope reigns as king.
Hope for a more compassionate world. Hope for a society with less scars, less pain, less fear.
In our dreams, which keep expanding like ripples in a pond that will one day become the whole world, we the graduates of the challenging year of 2020 will keep our pursuit of happiness that is only real when shared.
In our dreams, we will reach out to all those palms extended in need in every corner of every city in this country. And instead of putting coins in them, we will put our own hands and pull them out to our new world.
In our dreams, we won’t wait for people to come ask for help. We will go to every corner in search of the joy of giving.
In our dreams, we follow P.J. Palacio’s advice: “When given the choice between being right or being kind, we will always choose kind.”
During this COVID-19 epidemic, we learned what was essential and what was not. In a world drunk with consumerism, feeding on its own flesh like cancer, the coronavirus taught us that we can escape this madness of restlessness. But what we cannot escape is the necessity of love and compassion.
Maybe the little prince was right after all: “What is essential is invisible to the eye.”
So close your right eye, now close your left eye. Look with the remaining one.
Do you see us dreaming? Can you see our dreams becoming reality?
This has been our journey, and we are — and will always be — wanderers. Machado writes in one of his poems, “Wanderer, your footsteps are the road, and nothing more; wanderer, there is no road, the road is made by walking.” Let’s keep walking, my friends… let’s keep walking in the direction of our dreams.
I would like to end quoting Billy Pilgrim in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, who knew that time was irrelevant and the end of every journey is the start of another one. In the book, Pilgrim closes his speech as he does every speech with the words: “Farewell, hello, farewell, hello.”
But I’m not here to give a speech.
Elie Najjar is a young poet from the land of cedars. He is a full-time dreamer and a part-time orthopedic surgeon. He hunts for his dreams through literature, and the faces of the poor and forgotten. Writers like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Amin Maalouf, Isabel Allende, among many others, have shaped his life.