Thank you so much for the honor of being here today as your commencement speaker and Congrats to all of you in the Class of 2023! I also want to give a big thanks to your families and the RE teachers and staff who sacrificed and poured their love into you so we could all be here today celebrating this huge milestone in your lives. Today is also special for me as I too was in this room in 1993 to receive my RE diploma alongside several of your parents who were my classmates. 30 years ago, just like you, we sat in our seats – feeling nervous and excited for the next big step and sentimental about leaving friends, family and the nurturing home that is Ransom Everglades. You should be so proud of all of the hours of hard work and dedication you have devoted to your learning both in and out of the classroom – All of which will undoubtedly help you fly in your next steps. You have all already accomplished so much surviving covid, changes in learning and social isolation and those obstacles have also bonded you and showed you how you can RISE to meet any challenge. Ransom has pushed you out of your comfort zones, opened your eyes to your passions and instilled in you a sense of community, responsibility and values. It has given you friendships and relationships you will carry in your hearts for a lifetime. Let me also promise you that it has prepared you more than you can possibly know at this moment, for what lies ahead as you are about to take a giant leap into the unknown.
As I thought of writing this speech and what I wanted to convey to all of you- I remembered a CBS News interview I had done in NYC with a young woman named Paige. At 26 years old Paige had been diagnosed with breast cancer and had undergone a mastectomy. When she turned 30, she had closed the door on cancer and had just started her dream job as a beauty editor at Allure magazine. She was in the prime of her life and engaged to her fiance. It was then she felt a pain in her right hip – a pain that turned out to be a recurrence and metastasis of her breast cancer. She was told she now had stage 4 breast cancer. I asked her what advice her doctors had given her to help her face her life-changing diagnosis. I have never forgotten what she said. Her oncologist told her to think of life as a “chapter book” and Paige quietly sat across from me and said “hopefully these are going to be really, really long chapters. And if we need to turn the page and do another treatment, then we can do that.”
Paige (the magazine editor) was now living as an author – ready to write or edit her chapters as needed. It occurred to me as I listened to her that her philosophy of imagining the pen in her hand at all times was both empowering and peaceful. She was in control of making each chapter meaningful and was ready to start a new one when or if she needed. For you class of 2023 today is the beginning of what will become your chapter book. You can edit, rewrite, create and change your story anytime. Your story can be chaotic, full of twists and turns and trust me each and every part will help you evolve. Most important no matter what curve ball life throws at you (and there will definitely be many) – you can pick up your pen, turn the page to a brand new blank one and begin writing.
Since I left Ransom my own story has been ever changing and full of many different chapters. I want to share with you a bit of my story in the hopes that you will take away some key messages. As a cardiologist I have learned that what is important for so many of my patients is not necessarily the how long they live but instead the quality of their life – how they experience their days. While each of us will write our own book, there are some important themes I want you to remember to try to weave into your book that I believe will help you live a quality life. Call them my Prescription for a life well lived. So let me tell you about my first 5 chapters.
Chapter 1: Listen to your inner voice and work hard
My first chapter began when I graduated Ransom and headed off to Stanford. I was convinced I would become a cardiac surgeon. I had loved science since as early as I could remember and had volunteered in the dept of CV surgery at UM. Once at college I thought maybe medicine is what i love because it’s all i’ve really ever seen – my father is a doctor, my mother is a nurse. So, I ended up majoring in economics and in my senior year I went on interview after interview for investment banking and consulting jobs. The problem was whenever they asked why I wanted to do that job – I literally had nothing to say. It was the day of my college graduation and I had no plan in place and I felt lost. Here I was a Stanford grad with no job lined up and no idea what I was going to do. Naively as I struggled to figure out after graduation what might make me happy – I decided maybe having my own business would be the right fit. I came up with the idea of bringing the successful type of California smoothie chain (Jamba juice) to south Florida. But I had no idea how a smoothie business ran, much less any business. 3 months after college graduation I moved back to California, lived in a hotel and got a job blending smoothies as an employee at the Jamba Juice on the Stanford campus. At night I would write down in a journal everything I could remember from the day’s work- how many crates of fruit, how many employees, what kind of frozen yogurt they used. One month after my spy work, I quit my job at Jamba juice, moved home to Miami and bought a book from Barnes and Noble on how to write a business plan. 9 months later, my first child – Sun Juice Smoothies – was born. Here I was 22 years old with a store, 15 employees, working 7 days a week for 12 hours. It was a lot of work, but I had built this from the ground up and it was the best learning experience. Within a year we were successful and it was time to think about expanding but I knew something was really wrong. Despite success, I was not happy. One night at dinner with my parents, I told them “I can’t do this anymore ” I am not fulfilled and that feeling of unfulfillment was really awful. My heart wasn’t in business. I knew where my heart was – it was in medicine. “I want to go to medical school” I told my parents. You can imagine their shock after all the investment but I knew how horrible it felt to do something you did not love and I couldn’t imagine a lifetime of that. I listened to my inner voice, took my MCAT exams, extra courses at UM while running the store and applied to medical school. I headed off to USC back in California – knowing how Chapter ONE taught me the value of following your gut and intuition and working hard for what you want. So my chapter 1 lesson to you is: Never give up on what is in your heart and listen to your inner voice. If you love what you do and you work hard you will shine.
Chapter 2: Cultivate resilience and Always have hope
I was beyond excited to have made it to medical school. I was working hard and everything seemed to be smooth sailing until my second year. I started to notice in the lecture hall there was something not right with my eyes every time they would dim the lights to show us slides. I came home on Xmas break to Miami and went to UM to see an eye doctor. In that visit I was told I had a vision loss in the lower part of my right eye. It is a loss I carry to this day with me. At the time no one knew why it had happened. I saw specialists all over who told me different things. Some very scary diagnoses: like you may have multiple sclerosis or a you may have had a stroke. How could I be a doctor when I might go blind? I underwent multiple MRI’s adn was told I would have to have brain MRIs for the next 5 years to ensure nothing developed. Suddenly the girl who thought she had it all planned out – was learning how to live without a 5-year plan – beginning to learn to appreciate the moment, not waste time worrying about what I could not control and to embrace resilience. Resilience is one of the most important skills you can cultivate and it will help you know that no matter what happens you can move forward in life and make a meaningful life.
I recently found my old yearbook from 1993 with my class page and each of us at that time could pick a quote to put with our photo. I had forgotten that I had actually picked a line from the poem Invictus by William Ernest Henley – in the last lines he says “it matters not how strait the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.” After all these years, I realized how even at 16 I believed in our inner capacity for resilience – a topic I am now writing a book about. Med school also showed me the value of Hope. I always held onto hope that somehow some way I would graduate from med school and be able to do what I wanted to do in medicine. I had an attending doctor who taught us never to take hope away from a patient. In one of my favorite movies Shawshank Redemption- they say” Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.” So Chapter 2 came to a close but taught me about resilience and hope – 2 things I hope you always carry with you no matter what difficulties come your way.
Chapter 3: Show compassion and give back to others
I started my residency at Brigham and Women’s hospital/Harvard in Boston and I don’t think I was ever as exhausted or scared as I was that intern year. I was convinced, I would definitely kill a patient by my lack of knowledge. I remember my father (a cardiologist – telling me at the time – not to worry because it was actually very hard to kill a patient – which made me feel marginally better). I was emotionally and physically tested that first year as an intern. I remember my first rotation crying in the stairwell at the end of each day at seeing so much illness in the bone marrow transplant patients I was caring for. My coresidents and I helped each other pull through and to this day say that it was like being in war together. I saw a lot of death and a lot of life and a lot of the in between in the patients I cared for. The greatest part of my time in residency was that it taught me what it meant to be a healer – how there is no greater reward than giving of yourself to others. Healing does not always mean fixing or repairing – sometimes it can just mean listening, understanding, supporting and simply holding someone’s hand. We can all be healers to others in our lives if we care to commit, to take the time, to be present with others. The idea of service is exactly what Paul Ransom believed in saying he wished to create graduates who are “in the world not so much for what they can get out of it as for what they can put into it.” Service to others is something I hope you make a mission of yours in whatever way you can. Hand in hand with that is maintaining compassion. It is our capacity for empathy that keeps us connected and in touch with what it means to be a human. There is no way we will ever walk in the shoes of another person or truly know their journey, feelings or experiences; but we always have the tool of compassion. Compassion lets us step out of ourselves to be there for someone when they are angry, hurt, struggling, sick or simply when we don’t agree with another person’s viewpoint. It is a superpower that can make all our relationships healthier. Chapter 3 showed me the important lesson that I pass on to you of the value of giving to others and always having empathy.
Chapter 4: Push the door open
Chapter 4 focused on dreams. Deep down all of us have dreams we want to reach in life. Dreams are yours to grab but you have to fight for them. You have to push away fear and push down doors. You have to take dreams out of your head and make them real. My dream of being a medical journalist (combining science and communication) started in med school but truly it started even earlier. As much as I have always loved science, I have also loved writing and communicating – in fact one of my favorite teachers was Ms. Proenza who taught me English here at Ransom and made me believe my words, what I had to say and how I said it – mattered and could resonate with others. I wanted to be a storyteller of science. Amazing stories whether on television, movies, essays or books can reach us inside in such an emotional way that we are moved – to see things differently, to think differently and even act differently. So, when I was in medical school, I pretty quickly knew I didn’t want to do research or have a traditional academic medical career. I wanted to communicate science in an understandable, relatable way that made an impact – a public health impact by educating. I remember telling my classmates I wanted to do what Sanjay Gupta did – at that time 23 years ago he was the only medical correspondent on TV. My friends in med school thought I was crazy. Once again, I had no idea how to get to the dream but I knew I had the ability and I was certainly going to try to make it happen. That dream stayed burning in the background throughout my training. In my last year of cardiology fellowship in NYC, I sent my resume to probably every magazine, tv show, outlet that existed. Not one place responded to my cold calls and emails except NBC nightly news. They offered me an “internship” even though they had never had a doctor as an intern before (typically it was college students). I could not have been more thrilled to have gotten the opportunity. I spent one day each week for a year at Rockefeller Center learning and absorbing everything I could. When I finished my training in cardiology, I took my very first job at a hospital and started commenting on studies anytime a media outlet needed a doctor. After about two years I joined CBS News in 2014, became their senior medical correspondent in 2020. and last year joined CNN – where Sanjay Gupta works. The 26-year-old girl in med school who dreamed about this job was suddenly on the same network in the same role as Sanjay Gupta. So my reminder to you is – Dreams can and do come true. Open your minds to what is possible, manifest dreams by fighting for them and build roads where they aren’t any. Most of all live without fear, be bold in your endeavors.
Chapter 5: Love others/yourself and pursue gratitude
And here we are in Chapter 5 – where I am today. I was blessed to have loving parents and my brother Karr (class of ’97 ). Now later in life to have found my lobster – my husband David and we have 2 incredibly awesome daughters. David, Siena and Layla have made this chapter the most beloved to date. You see Love is truly the secret to it all. One of my favorite therapists who I met with did an exercise with me – he told me imagine you are blind – and suddenly you have been granted the gift of being able to open your eyes and see again but only for a few minutes before you lose your sight again. He said what would you want to see in those few minutes. It took me a second to answer – I said simply ” I would want to see the faces of David, Siena and Layla”. He looked at me and said “Tara you are so blessed – you literally have everything you want right in front of you every day” you just have to keep your eyes open. The realization that nothing else really is as important as our loved ones makes every day meaningful. At the end of life that is what patients talk about – their relationships with others. Cultivating our personal relationships makes everything else in life worthwhile so I encourage all of you to pay attention to love. Seek it out, embrace it, cherish it and hold on to it when you find it. No matter what your chapter book is about or how it changes, it is Love that will be what you remember at the end of your book and what will carry you through the good and bad times. Love also means self-love – caring for your mental health and wellbeing is something we all need to prioritize. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable, to seek help and therapy when or if you need it. Learning to love ourselves is the most rewarding thing we can do. And as I close out this part of my book my last magical ingredient is gratitude. My husband bought me a book written by the author of the Secret. It focuses on reframing how we look at what happens to us and putting positive energy into the universe to attract what we want. In the book one of my favorite lessons involves waking up every morning and thinking of 5 things you are grateful for that day. We can all find 5 things every day if we try, to remind us of the bounty we have and focus our attention on the goodness in our lives. As Paige, the beauty editor, told me in our interview her doctor also told her to celebrate life. She told me since that moment, that’s what she’s done. She said “It’s big celebrations and small celebrations and just really living my life to the fullest. It’s all about perspective..the bottom line is..there’s something to be celebrated every single day.”
A few weeks ago, my classmates from Ransom and I had our 30th reunion and sadly none of us could remember who our commencement speaker even was. So, if there is anything that you remember years later from today (like was our speaker that smoothie girl?) it is that you are the writer of your story.
As the authors you will craft the most incredible books – filled with triumph, tragedy, bravery, dreams, laughter, adventure, heartbreak, love and so much more.
As a memory and keepsake of graduation – in the next week or two, you will all be receiving a bookmark in the mail. The words printed on the bookmark are there to remind you to weave into your chapter book hard work, your inner voice, resilience, hope, service, compassion, dreams, bravery, love and gratitude.
Don’t be afraid to fail, make mistakes or change course.
And Never let anyone take away your pen.
I end with the lyrics of a song I love by Josh Groban: Granted
Sometimes the greatest moment we’ll ever know. Are when we’re letting go, so let go
And maybe our brightest days still wait for us In the unknown
If you have a dream, go chase it
If you feel hope, don’t waste it
If you find love, embrace it
If you have a light, go find it
The story’s yours, go write it
Our days are counted on this planet
So never take a single breath for granted
Class of 2023 take all that Ransom gave you and use it.
You are remarkable, resilient and ready for this.
Your roots are deep and your wings are strong.
Go be a light in the world.
We can’t wait to read your books.
Congratulations Class of 2023!