Untitled Page

Please be Restless:


Richard Reznick
Richard Reznick

Every one of you graduating here today should know that this place, University of Toronto, is special. I will always admire the fertile soil that this institution provides to all of us. Soil that is rich in nutrients for ideas to grow, soil that is dark and luxurious, so that innovation can thrive, and soil that covers our seeds of wisdom in the cold, so they can rest; only to awaken in the spring with blossoming beauty. You should forever be proud that you are graduating today from one of the world's finest universities.

I am truly hopeful that all of our graduating class will embrace restlessness, and have an intense desire to do something special. Be a family doctor whose passion for patient advocacy results in system changes for a city, a province or a country. Become a clinician scientist and define discoveries that will alter the diseases that are currently afflicting our patients. Develop a passion for teaching so that you can be identified by one student or by a multitude of trainees as someone who has helped chart their life course. As Dan Rather put it, perhaps your students will comment that you were the teacher who believed in them, who tugged and pushed and lead them to the next plateau, sometimes poking them with a sharp stick called "truth."

Please be restless.

Twenty-five years ago, I drove down to Springfield Illinois, the home of a medical school situated in the middle of a cornfield that had become well known for its work in medical education.

Why, you may ask, was a surgeon pursuing a master's degree in education? I must admit, that I really had no concrete idea of what I was doing. I had never heard of Piaget (I thought it was some kind of watch) let alone his theories on how and when we truly learn. All I knew about B.F.Skinner, was that he worked with rats. A master's degree in educational psychology? Courses on social cognition and constructivist epistemology? A surgeon. Go figure.

As I think back to those times, I realize that my trip to Springfield was my way of taking a path less travelled by. And as I think back, as if I were on some kind of Freudian psychoanalytic couch, in many respects that decision was fashioned by influential people and events in my life. And so too, will it be with all of you. For it goes both ways. As doctors, you will exert a profound influence on your patients. Words that you use that to you may seem simple or trivial may have long-lasting effects for your patients.

So let me tell you about four individuals; the tiny Miss Graham with a beautiful voice, the famous Leo Buscaglia, my friend Bob Stone, and finally Bernie Langer, one of Canada's best surgeons.

Of course, you would not have known Miss Graham. A diminutive woman, she taught music at Gardenview Elementary for over twenty years. She infused the gifted and the tone deaf alike, with a love of music. She was always happy, and she spread that joy to her students. And joy was the operative word; her own version of Mr. Holland's Opus, she was the paragon of the smile at Gardenview.

Leo Buscaglia was truly a love child from the sixties. I remember listening to his lectures, as he traversed North America preaching about the value of love. That was when I was young, impressionable, had hair down to my shoulders and went to Woodstock. Leo once said that the opposite of love is not hate; it's apathy. He said that "too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around." My favourite Buscagliaism was when he was talking about strife and war in this world and he suggested that "the further away you are from me, the easier it is for me to dislike you, the closer you get, the harder it is, and when you are in my arms, I cannot be angry with you". Leo taught a generation about life and love.

Bob Stone is a great friend, a great surgeon and a wonderful teacher. To be sure, he taught me how to take out a colon, to diagnose a perforated ulcer and treat septic shock. But these were secondary lessons. He also taught me how to dream. As his young partner of a few months, he told me one day that I was to take the next month off; I'll take care of your patients, he said. I looked at him as if he was from Mars. What on earth am I going to do for a month? His answer was profound in its simplicity. You need to go to the library, spend a month collecting your thoughts, dream the big dream, and write it down. Well, surprised as you may be, and flabbergasted as I was, I did exactly that. I wrote a document about the creation of a center for medical education. That document became the focus of my academic life for the next ten years. That spark, which changed my life came from a crazy surgeon who dared to challenge his junior partner and then took care of his patients.

I was Bernie Langer's student, I was Bernie's intern, I was his resident, I was his research fellow and I was his partner. And it's absolutely amazing to me, that each and every time I get into a surgical jam, or have a tough political problem to work through, I pause and think, now how would he have handled this situation? And the answer is always simple - make the tough decisions, don't be afraid of a bumpy road, and hard work trumps simple solutions; each and every time.

So there you have it. A surgeon's message to a graduating class. I am sure you are thinking what was he smoking in the sixties? What was he talking about; joy, love, self worth, iconoclasm, and following the tough path? Well, in a sense, I was echoing the messages we have heard from world famous educators throughout the centuries. Spinoza, Rousseau, Bandura, Thoreau and Knowles have sent similar and enduring messages to all of us. They argued that we should challenge our students, they reminded us of the profound influence we have on others and they wrote that we must all make sure we keep our eyes focused on core values, such as comfort and well-being. And that the parents in this audience, themselves love - children from the sixties, had it right... and love really does conquer all.

Finally, we need to constantly remind ourselves that real change and real progress comes when we challenge our current theories to their very core, when we are not afraid to defy conventional doctrine, and when we are willing to risk it all to follow a dream, to pursue a passion. And above all we need to be reminded that the currency of happiness, Miss Graham's unabashed happiness, is our most precious commodity.

Graduating class of 2010, as the poet of my generation, Bob Dylan said, "May your hands always be busy, may your feet always be swift. May you have a strong foundation when the winds of changes shift. May your heart always be joyful, may your song always be sung and may you stay forever young.

Thank you very much for the honour of addressing your class.

Richard Reznick

Skip Navigation Links