Dr. Vivek Murthy to Graduates: 'Live a Connected Life'

May 16, 2016

Dr. Vivek Murthy, the U.S. surgeon general, speaks during the UA's 152nd Commencement ceremony. (Photo: John de Dios/UANews)

In a speech intimately aware of the University of Arizona, its graduating class and large-scale problems in the contemporary world, Dr. Vivek Murthy, the U.S. surgeon general, presented his hopes for the thousands of students in the Class of 2016.

"As I was thinking about you on the way to Arizona, my mind was filled with things that I wish for you in the years ahead: good health, a fulfilling career, a happy family and so much more," Murthy told the audience of more than 4,000 graduates. 

"But there is one thing I hope for you more than anything else: My hope is that you live a connected life," he said.

With more than 40,000 guests and hundreds of UA volunteers in attendance, Murthy presented in his keynote Commencement address three essential "ingredients" for such a life.

"Now, you might think to yourself: 'Hold on a minute, it’s 2016 and I feel the world is pretty connected. I’ve got thousands of followers on Instagram and Snapchat, I’m available by text 24/7 and the GPS locator on my cell phone is turned on. How much more connected could I get?' But I'm talking about a different type of connection — the kind that makes you rich in life currency, not in monetary terms," Murthy said.

Murthy presented empathy, optimism and courage as the requisite qualities. 

"Empathy feeds our desire for connection. Optimism helps us believe that connection is possible. But courage is what enables us to act and make our connections to people real," he said.

Murthy had other points of emphasis and advice for the graduating class.

About Knowing the Graduates

"I actually feel that I already know you since I’ve been there at formative moments in your life. Like the time you were standing under the bleachers in high school and someone offered you a cigarette. You politely declined because you knew that smoking causes cancer, and I was right there on the side of the cigarette box backing you up. Or remember that time, a few years ago, when you followed your friends into a bar — accidentally, of course? You were offered shots but said, 'No thanks. I'm not yet 21 and I know consumption of alcoholic beverages may cause health problems.' Well, I was there, too, on the side of the bottle, feeling so darn proud of you. So, it seems fitting that since I was there for those moments, I should be here for this one."

About the UA Class of 2016

"Your class includes a young woman who moved from halfway around the world at the age of 17 and became the first in her family to attend college. Your class includes a student who is getting his bachelor's degree at the age of 18. Your class includes a young man who turned a health scare during freshman year into a passion for using medical optics to improve the lives of others. And your class includes many other students who have pushed the boundaries of science and the arts in service of society. Yours is a class that has also mobilized efforts on campus to ensure that diversity and inclusion are not just slogans but values that are reflected in every aspect of university life. And I thank you for that."

About Diversity and Inclusion

"The great challenge that faces America is that the bonds that hold together our diverse nation are being tested. As we grow in diversity in race, religion and viewpoints, the breadth and depth of our connections must also expand and become more inclusive — but that is not always happening."

About Courage

"When the twin towers fell on 9/11 on that fateful morning 15 years ago, thousands of Manhattan residents fled south looking for an escape from the growing inferno behind them. But instead of relief, they were greeted by the unforgiving waters of the Hudson, which offered no path to safety. The panicked crowd continued to grow until the U.S. Coast Guard made a key decision: They issued a radio call to every civilian ship in the area, asking them to join in an unprecedented citizen rescue mission. The response was overwhelming. Within minutes, the Hudson was covered with scores of boats streaking toward the southern tip of Manhattan. They pierced through the dense cloud of dust and debris and brought soot-covered people on board, offered them water and ferried them to safety. In nine hours, nearly 500,000 people were rescued. The 9/11 boat lift became the largest boat rescue in the history of the world. Now, the 9/11 boat lift was powered by ordinary people. They were never trained in emergency response. They would never have described themselves as heroes. And they had every reason to flee for safety themselves. But their courage is what allowed them to act. Vincent Ardolino, the captain of the Amberjack, said his wife thought that he was a maniac for wanting to take his boat toward Manhattan that morning after the call. But he knew that he had to go. 'Never go through life saying you should have,' he said later, reflecting on that decision. 'If you want to do something, you do it.'"

About Social Isolation

"Too many of us live in big cities but find few people who really know us. We have stronger Internet connections but weaker personal connections. We have more followers on social media, but they just don’t seem to fill the void. Now, I learned early on in medicine that isolation was the most common challenge my patients faced. It has real consequences. Isolation and weakening social connections are associated with increased risk of heart disease, declining brain function and shorter life spans. They can also lead to anxiety and fear. Isolation and silos also weaken our communities. Without strong communities, we cannot pull together during times of hardship. Our diversity turns from a source of strength to a source of conflict. But when we have strong connections to each other, everything is possible."

About Opportunities the U.S. Can Provide

"My parents came to America nearly 40 years ago from humble beginnings in search of a better life for their children. They raised my sister and me to believe that America was a place where your ideas and willingness to work hard mattered more than the color of your skin or the sound of your accent. And despite all our imperfections as a nation, I stand before you fully aware that in no other country in the world could the grandson of a poor farmer from India be asked by the president to look out for the health of the entire nation. That is the power and promise of America. And I am deeply grateful for it, and I am especially thankful to my parents and sister who are, in fact, here today."