Sherwood Gives Nursing Commencement Address
June 1, 2005

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Gwen Dorminey Sherwood, executive associate dean of the School of Nursing at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, was the commencement speaker for the Georgia Baptist College of Nursing. The commencement took place on May 7, at the Sheffield Student Center on the Cecil B. Day Campus. Below is Sherwood's address:
 
It is our Choice……Living According to Mission and Purpose
 
President Godsey, Dean Gunby, administrators and faculty, thank you for inviting me here to participate in the Georgia Baptist graduation. Most of all, graduates, I greet you and thank you that I get to be a part of this day.
 
Today is a day you will always remember. Wherever you are, wherever you go, you will be able to stop and remember this day. Pause for a moment with mindful presence, notice who is sitting next to you. Smell the air, sense the excitement that prevails. Embrace this moment. Recognize the optimism that imamates from your faculty as they bask in a job well done. See the pride on the faces of your family, your parents, grandparents, and children, all who have been a significant part of your journey to this day.  I too once sat where you are, a Georgia Baptist graduate.
 
Like many special things on life's journey, this particular one only comes once. You will earn other degrees, you may march again to the cadence of pomp and circumstance but you will never again sit where you are now as a candidate for graduation with this degree from Georgia Baptist College of Nursing.
 
Your graduation marks a moment in time on the journey. Today's milestone of achievement marks the transition from student to professional nurse. For many of us, we begin such an epoch journey with our dreams guiding our vision of where we want to be. Now, today is the achievement, the goal met. This is the moment you have awaited for so long. To get here, you stayed up nights, worked tirelessly, lugged heavy textbooks, gave up vacations and movies with friends, in fact, social life, what social life??
 
The work and sacrifice paid off, you have achieved your dream and now it is time to ask, what next? In television land, after a team wins the big game, we ask, where to next? Disney World is the famous advertising response.  Where will you be tomorrow and what will you be doing when the academic regalia is packed away, the celebrations are over, and the balloons losing their air. For many, this was the goal, life's ambition, to graduate, without stopping to thing where next. This is only a stop on the entire mesmerizing journey of an entire life. For in truth, graduation is not the destination, but a marker, a time to recognize achievement on the path, a milestone, and then we must pick up our bags and go onward.
 
Where? For today to have its ultimate meaning there must be a broader vision, a sighting of the meaning and purpose for life, the question of what is the meaning of our being here. The spirituality of our lives is the recognition and ability to live according to our divinely intended purpose, when we are able to attune our professional lives and goals within our own personal mission.
 
Mission, what is your mission? How does this graduation fit into your life's mission? That specific task you are sent to perform? Your calling, your destiny, the very thing that when you are doing it, you feel complete, whole, integrated, purposeful, and satisfied. You do it out of commitment, out of wanting, and if you don't do it, you are incomplete, miserable, dissatisfied. Mission calls us to reexamine who we are, and what we are really about. Is it about making money? Is it about personal possessions, power and influence, or is it about service, compassion for others, bringing light to darkness, and caring for those who are not always cared for.
 
A mission statement brings all the parts of your life together; it is a feeling of integration. The basis for decisions you make, it is not your job, nor your identity, it is your reason for being here. It is finding the place where you contribute because you feel you belong; you are living your passion. Living away from your mission can lead to fragmentation. Living by your mission statement fosters professional artistry, it ensures a legacy. What are you leaving behind for generativity of the next generation?
 
Many come to the crossroads represented by graduation and they lose their place, their direction, their reason for being. School was the goal, the degree the end point instead of school as preparation to live according to purpose, focusing on what is the difference I can make in the world because I have this degree? Mission is accomplishing something that no one else can do quite the way you can.
 
It is like the salesman whose goal was to sell the most pieces of medical equipment he could. Being number 1 was his goal. He crisscrossed the nation selling those machines. Then one day he had an urgent call to come home, his father was critically ill, failing rapidly. He rushed to his father's bedside only to discover that the reason his father was still alive was because the hospital had wisely invested in one of those machines he had been so avidly selling. He was transformed. Now rather than his goal being to sell the most machines he could, to be the top salesman, his goal was to have one of those machines in every place where they were needed so that others could have the same life saving experience his father had. Now he sold machines from a commitment to his mission and purpose and not from a material perspective. Look for a place that allows you to live congruently with your purpose, that runs parallel to your vision of nursing practice and offers you a feeling of significance.
 
Significance is being a part of something bigger than you and derives from meaningful commitment. It comes from contributing to something of lasting value and instills pride through continual renewal. You experience significance when you see what happens to other people because of you. It is recognizing that today life was different for someone because I showed up. It calls for you to engage in your work with passion.
 
The most important gift you can give anyone is to be engaged with mindful presence, the giving of attention, being truly present in the moment. Perhaps your parents read to you the story of The Velveteen Rabbit. To his dismay the stuffed rabbit became worn and tattered over time and was cast aside in favor of newer, jazzier toys. The happy ending is that he was eventually loved into a living breathing rabbit being. I do not suggest you transform your patients into rabbits, but I do challenge you to care your patients into a health care system that recognizes each of them as living breathing individual human beings.
 
The human spirit is one's inner essence, the defiant power that motivates and inspires questions of purpose. To find meaning one has to confront fears, break old patterns and get outside the self to help others, it derives from one's values and mission.  Working attuned to one's spirit calls for mindfulness, a reflection on and in the moment, In practice, the moment of caring, the physical and mental presence flowing from a caring approach that is both challenging and rewarding, mutual and reciprocal. When we care that much, we are renewed, buoyed, sustained, lifted up beyond ourselves, transcended to the divine calling to love, even as He, the higher power, loves us.
 
We do not typically talk about this kind of love in the halls of power. This kind of love and caring is often mislabeled as soft, yet, true caring means we care enough that we are knowledgeable and skillful in our craft of nursing, that we know from multiple frameworks, from the empirical and scientific, the emotional and mental, the aesthetic, the personal, and the ethical and legal. When we can bring all these ways of knowing together into a caring gestalt, we practice nursing on its most ideal plane. We answer to its highest calling, for indeed the work of nurses is among the most rewarding when we do it well.
 
Yet too often we yield to the economic pressures, we call in excuses that the administration is not supportive, that we are short staffed, and other providers are rude and do not listen. It is our choice. We are in the position of making our own destiny. We can choose to follow the meaning in our profession through a practice of caring. We can choose to practice negotiation skills, effective conflict resolution, and skillful communication to secure the resources needed to accomplish the goals of care and learn to use our voice so that we are no longer a silent profession. It is our choice, and you can choose this day to be that kind of nurse. You can choose to practice to get by, to survive, or you can choose to use all the ways of knowing to bring caring to the workplace, to listen to the needs of others, to seek first to understand, and begin with the end in mind so that we level the perceived hierarchy that dominates the health care industry. It is our choice, and by choosing to define and live by our mission, we can be the profession of this twenty first century. We can make a difference; we can change the world, one patient, one nurse at a time. Consider your destiny. Make your life count today, tomorrow and the next. It is a high calling, a profession of merit and satisfaction.
 
So mark this moment and savor its joy within the context of a purpose driven life. If you don't know where you are going you won't know how to get there. You are a source of power. I congratulate you, the class of 2005, and I enthusiastically welcome you to the professional and embrace the dynamism you bring.
 
I will follow your careers with great interest, for some of you will surely be my nurse someday, and, I only want the best.
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