On the morning of our graduation ceremony for the University of Vermont College of Medicine, I sat on the bench at the bus stop outside the medical center. The sun was shining out of an almost clear blue sky and the flag of the United States of America hung untroubled by even a gentle breeze.
How could anyone in my shoes not sit in contemplation of a long journey reaching its conclusion and fail to feel incredibly fortunate?
I started medical school almost 35 years ago. It has clearly been a winding path to this moment, but I am acutely aware of how appropriate the route feels now and how ready I am for the next phase. Not intellectually ready, perhaps, for I certainly have anxieties about entering internship and becoming a doctor, with all the risk and responsibility that comes with that change in status. But spiritually I could not be more confident that the time is right.
As I sat there, I was thinking about the speech I was going to give that afternoon as Class Speaker at the commencement ceremony. From the moment I thought about writing something to submit for the Executive Committee to consider, it felt like there was already a speech sitting in the air and that if I just got out of its way it would write itself. I have occasionally had that sense with characters that I have played in my previous life as an actor, but never in a context comparable to this. From the very beginning I was aware of the possibilities the moment would open up. A moment to reflect, to pull strands together. A moment to understand what has happened to me and to express my deep, deep gratitude.
I could not have dreamed up a more perfect environment in which to grow into a physician. UVM nurtured me, it challenged me, it surrounded me with great teachers, some of whom were faculty, some my fellow students, some were patients, some were mailroom or kitchen or janitorial staff. All of them made me feel welcomed and appreciated. And biggest of all, invited. That was a big part of the speech: Who does the school invite? What is it that makes a “UVM” student? Who are we as a community?
I spoke at length on Sunday about that, and it felt so good to be able to say ‘Thank you’ to my class, to my teachers and to the school. Thank you for inviting me to come and for accepting what I had to offer. That is an incredible gift: To let someone bring what they have and support them in the search for who they might become, rather than try to mold them into some archetypal “doctor” that will always be an imperfect fit and that will never allow them to be all that they are. I have been traveling this road for a long, long time, searching for how to be me as a doctor, never quite able to figure it out and arrive. UVM was where I learned how to stop searching and make the transition. For this, I will always be grateful.
On Wednesday, I boarded my flight to Washington. I left Vermont not knowing when I will be here next. And conscious of leaving a big piece of me behind…
View Peter Wingfield’s Student Address at the UVM College of Medicine Commencement ceremony May 17, 2015.