The Honorable Sharon Cooper, State Representative from the 30th District of Georgia, gave the commencement address to graduates of the Georgia Baptist College of Nursing on May 1. Her address follows:
Thank you, Dr. Fleming, for that thorough introduction. To you and President Godsey, to your esteemed faculty, to the honored graduates and their guests, I extend my heartfelt appreciation for the privilege of being a part of this special day. I also appreciate this opportunity to wear my full academic regalia for the first time since finishing my Masters degree in Nursing. I skipped that graduation, saying I would just wait until I walked across the stage to receive my PHD, a day yet to come.
In preparation for this ceremony I have spent considerable time pondering what I might possibly say in 10 minutes that would leave any lasting impression with you.
Let me begin by stating that I do not consider myself to be a great scholar, a brilliant orator or a truly important person. Rather, first and foremost, I am a registered nurse who has been fortunate to have extraordinary opportunities and experiences during my lifetime. However, I must be totally honest and admit that nursing was not my first career choice. I wanted to be an archeologist. You should have heard what my dad had to say! Given the fact that I grew up in a small Texas town, barely middle class, that really wasn't an option. In fact, in that era most women had only two career choices, nursing or teaching. I reluctantly chose nursing.
But back to today…finally, after great deliberation and drawing from my own personal experiences, I have settled on three major "points of wisdom" that I want to share with you.
First…Time Flies, Life is Short, Use it Wisely!
It seems that time truly does fly. I find it very hard to believe that this month is the 40th anniversary of my own graduation from nursing school! FORTY YEARS! It seems like only yesterday. I used to tell the college students in my human growth and development classes that children are very permanent while you have them, but given our current long life spans, they are really very transient. Life's a lot like that. While you're in the thick of it…you think it will go on forever, then all of a sudden it's over. Therefore, it is imperative that you use your time on this earth wisely. Take the time to set priorities and goals for your future. Write them down and most importantly, review them at regular intervals. This will allow you to make life corrections as needed along the way and hopefully you will avoid having major regrets later on. Sounds easy, but in reality most people wander aimlessly through life.
Second…What matters most in life are the people whose lives you touch and those that touch yours.
Since I've been out of nursing school for 40 years, one doesn't have to be a mathematical expert to realize that I'm in my sixties. As much as I hate to admit it, I've now entered the developmental stage of old age. Thank goodness the experts have re-defined this final stage of life into three periods, and I am only in the youth of my old age. Of course, I still must face the major development task of aging…the task of evaluating my life and deciding if I am pleased or dissatisfied with the results. Unfortunately, at this point, there will be few opportunities to change or to rectify major mistakes. That is why it is so important "to get it right" in each of the earlier stages of life
As I prepared for today I was flooded with memories from the past. This has caused me to focus on my own life's evaluation as I tried to determine what had really been important to me over the past 40 years. For example, I remember very little of my graduation ceremony, but I can still picture the husband and mentally retarded son of my senior med-surg care study patient as they entered the auditorium that day. They had traveled two hours by bus to see me graduate and to bring me twenty dollars so I could buy the special pair of nursing shoes I so wanted.
Is the fact that I never pursued that long planned PHD in nursing a real regret? No it's not, for in retrospect my life just took a different path…a late marriage to a wonderful physician and then a successful run for public office.
What I do regret is that I was distracted last November and delayed calling a beloved employee of 25 years who was hospitalized. When I finally remembered to make the call, he had lapsed into a coma from which he never recovered. That mistake still hurts and will for the rest of my life. Another long term regret, is not telling my 6th grade teacher before he died, how much he helped me "survive" the traumatic death of my mother.
A much happier memory is of a small dinner party I attended with The Dr. Seuss in 1980. However, a much more vivid and important memory is when, as a student nurse, I spent a whole afternoon reading Dr. Seuss books to two young cousins who had been injured in a wreck. Both of their mothers had been killed. They were alone and waiting for their dads to come from two states away.
Forty years of memories, most good but some bad, of course. I could go on and on sharing examples with you but invariably the experiences that proved most important and the ones I remember most vividly are the ones involving people. People whose lives I touched in some significant way or whose lives have touched mine.
Finally, Number 3…You have chosen the perfect profession to help you live a meaningful life.
As a nurse you will be working with people when they are most vulnerable. Please treat this special trust most carefully, for how you care for your patient will certainly have a major impact on their responses to their illnesses. In this impersonal world, people are desperate for a kind word, a kind touch or just for someone who will truly listen to them in a non-judgmental manner. As it has been said, most people live lives of quiet desperation and I believe that is true. As a nurse, you will have an opportunity to counter indifference and lack of caring, and to offer solace on a daily basis. Even if you never practice a single day for pay, your nursing education will provide golden opportunities for you to make a real difference in the lives of the people you meet.
Sometimes people come up to me now and say, "You used to be a nurse". I HATE THAT! I always correct them and say, "I AM A NURSE AND I WILL ALWAYS BE A NURSE". Being a nurse is part of my very being and I use one or more of my nursing skills on a daily basis. Just this January I received a 6:00 AM call from my next-door neighbor asking that I come check on his wife. She was in her 4th week of recovering from a broken hip and had been up for a couple of hours complaining of nausea and great general discomfort. As soon as I entered their bedroom, I realized that she was dying. Because I was there, because of my nursing education, I realized her husband needed to stop rushing around preparing for the trip to the hospital. Instead, I had him come sit beside her, and with each of us holding one of her hands, together we helped that lovely lady gently leave this life.
Even in the legislature I regularly use my nursing skills. Being a successful legislator is all about working with people. Given the rancor of the last session, there have been times lately when I have wished that I could demonstrate my ability to quietly put someone in a strait jacket. Daily on the House floor I use my keen observation skills, which were sharpened by my years as a psychiatric nurse. I always know who's wheeling and dealing and with whom…invaluable information for any legislator.
Recently my legislative work to prevent abuse against women and children afforded me a trip to the White House and a meeting with the President. I must admit I still get goose bumps when I think about sitting in the East Room of that historic building, in front of the very painting of George Washington that Dolly Madison rushed to save as the British burned Washington. But I am ever mindful that I would not have had that wonderful experience except for my passion to work against all forms of abuse, a passion born of all the injuries from abuse I witnessed as a hospital nurse.
Oh how I wish I could find that high school counselor who told me I had perfect profile to be a nurse. She was so right! I owe her an apology for telling her she was dead wrong and storming out of her office.
Nursing is not just a profession; it becomes part of your very being.
I see that my time has grown short, so in closing just let me reiterate… time flies—use it wisely; people are what matter and your chosen profession, if practiced wisely, will be your key to a meaningful life. You alone are responsible for your life. Seize the opportunities, work around the obstacles and ENJOY THE RIDE!
And once again, thank you for sharing this special day with me. Congratulations on your graduation!