Tulane President Fitts Commencement Speech 2018
Ladies and gentlemen, it is my distinct honor and privilege to present to you the class of 2018.
Graduates, you’re only about an hour away from crossing the finish line. All of your hard work – especially in this last year – is about to pay off!
You should know -- I also worked hard this year. I made a determined effort to expand my social media presence. Between Instagram, Twitter, -- even Snapchat – I’ve tried my best to perfect my personal “hashtag-brand.” What you end up seeing is the finished product – the result of multiple drafts, re-writes, selfies with better lighting.
But that means there is a lot of material that never sees the light of day. As Helen Mirren reminded us last year – nothing good comes from tweeting after 3 a.m.
And so now – class of 2018 – in honor of all your achievements -- it is my pleasure to present you with a few of my unreleased 3 a.m. tweets.
I hope I don’t regret this….*ahem*
If you remember even one thing from today, let it be this: everything you post on the internet is permanent!
Class of 2018, you have a special place in my heart. You were my first class at Tulane. Don’t tell the others – but between you and me--you are my favorite.
I watched you grow, transformed by the magic of New Orleans and Tulane, into leaders ready to take on the world. We are all so proud of you.
And I know that each one of you has a whole village to thank:
Every mom, dad, sister and brother -- every poppy, grandma, memaw and nana. Every person who stepped up to the plate, like family -- amazing camp counselors, high school physics teachers, and football coaches.
Graduates: remind them now how grateful you are for their love, and the many sacrifices they made for you.
To the parents, and all who filled that role: not long ago, I stood in your shoes, proudly watching my own daughters graduate. I was blown away by the people they had become, but amazed at how the time had flown by so fast. It is a feeling like no other.
I have one story I’d like to tell you – to show you everything you need to know about the class of 2018 and how special they are.
Four years ago, Adaora Okoli was an attending physician taking care of the first reported Ebola patient in a Nigerian hospital. Less than two weeks later, she was sent to an isolation ward – a newly infected victim of the deadly disease.
There, Adaora was told her odds of survival were slim.
The sole doctor overseeing her ward had none of the latest vaccines or therapeutic serums at his disposal.
Instead, he treated Adaora’s Ebola with water, Tylenol, and rest.
She suffered terribly, but never ever lost hope – literally using her medical knowledge to keep herself alive.
Every day, she monitored her liquid output, forcing herself to drink water all through the night to replenish the fluids her body had lost.
After two hellish weeks, Adaora received the news she wasn’t sure she would live to hear: she had beaten Ebola.
As she left, Adaora used a pair of scissors to cut the red caution tape surrounding the facility -- marking her re-entry into the world.
She told me, “I felt that I had a new life. I wanted to do something important with it.”
In her rebirth, Adaora was presented with a new challenge: she wanted to merge her passion for clinical work, with epidemiology research in developing countries.
This would mean combining medicine, statistics, public health, biology, engineering, and social science – all with an international focus – under one umbrella.
Most universities couldn’t provide such a wide net for study.
But Tulane was different!
At Tulane, we actually push our students to merge and link distinct fields and disciplines. We revel in the innovation that such academic exploration and curiosity can breed.
The Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine is a perfect example of this mindset at work.
And with its years of world-leading international infectious disease research efforts – it was the perfect fit for Adaora to come study.
Four years later, Adaora is here -- in the Superdome -- an hour away from graduating with a master’s degree in infectious disease epidemiology.
Soon, she plans to return to Nigeria – to bring her new knowledge home, and stop future outbreaks in their tracks.
In January, Bill Gates named Adaora one of his “heroes in the field.”
Today, I’m proud to say -- she’s one of mine as well. Adaora, please stand, and be recognized!
Adaora’s story is the story of so many Tulanians.
It is one of resilience, perseverance, and overcoming adversity.
It’s one of living out our motto: “not for one’s self, but for one’s own.”
And it’s a case study in how your ambition – and your immense intelligence -- will help you accomplish anything you set your mind to.
I have watched, with enormous pride, at all the ways you have lived out these Tulane values in your time here.
Law students represented victims of domestic abuse.
Social Work students provided vital services to some of New Orleans’ most at-risk populations.
Together, the class of 2018 completed more than 100,000 hours of service.
And your efforts expanded across the region and across the globe, as well.
This summer, when our neighbors in Houston suffered terrible flooding and damage, your class sprung into action -- rallying and organizing first-response efforts.
And when Hurricane Maria devastated the Caribbean this fall, your class took the lead in Tulane’s effort to host the displaced Puerto Rican students.
But perhaps what I am most proud of, is how your class pushed the Tulane community to reckon with its own flaws, inequalities, and injustices.
You pressed your peers, and your university, to address some deeply concerning issues of our own -- from racism, to sexual violence, to systemic inequity.
In the face of these immense challenges, you came together with compassion, strength and resolve.
You supported each other, and bound together closely as a community of leaders committed to positive change.
Remember that! There is nothing that a group of motivated, empathetic people can’t accomplish together.
I have watched you in your time here, and it is clear to me that, more than anything we taught you in a classroom, you have learned the single most important lesson of Tulane ---
To meet the challenges of the world head-on-- with grit, determination, and the unyielding belief that there is no problem too difficult for you to solve.
Graduates: this is your time. It’s your moment to take the baton. I want you to go out there, and show the world what Tulane means. We are all rooting for you.
You have been equipped with the tools of greatness…I can’t wait to see what you build with them.
And – because you have all been so great -- I have one last tweet to show you: