We were so moved by the words of Dr. Ben Danielson on June 9th 2023 where he gave the keynote speech for the School of Nursing Convocation. It is important, now more than ever, that our leaders take a stand and speak truth to power; we believe Dr. Ben Danielson (“Dr. Ben” as he is known among his patients) is a shining example of leadership with conviction. Benjamin Danielson is a pediatrician and clinical Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine. Danielson is known in the Seattle community for being an advocate and leader for underserved children and their families. Danielson has devoted his career to increasing access to healthcare and fighting against racial inequities. Throughout his time as a pediatrician, Danielson has facilitated the creation and development of diversity programs and contributed actively to governmental policy as a member of several health boards. Danielson was the medical director of the Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic from 1999 to 2020, where he then resigned and spoke out about prevalent institutional racism and a resistance to change from hospital leaders. In September of 2021, it was announced that Danielson would be directing a new program, Allies in Healthier Systems for Health & Abundance in Youth (AHSHAY) to help address and prevent youth incarceration. Dr. Ben was selected as the 2021 recipient of the Seattle-King County First Citizen Award.
We encourage you to read his powerful keynote speech below, or access the video, available here: UW School of Nursing Convocation 6.9.23 (vimeo.com)
Nursing Commencement Address 2023
I wish I had all the right words to fully express, what an honor it is to share a bit of this time with you today. You are the truest and most skilled practitioners of the art of caring. You are the conscience and the devoted soul of this thing called healthcare. From the ORs, to hospital wards, to the labs, to the clinics, to our beloved communities. You are the first experience of warmth at the start of a patient’s care, the trusted constant during treatment, and the most supportive conclusion to the caring experience. You are the art and the soul of health sciences.
Art and Soul.
My regard for you is sincere and enduring. You were my first and best teachers. In my earliest and least certain days as a training physician, it was you who taught me, continue to teach me. In the highly technical realm of hospital wards, and – preciously to me – in the most soulful realm of a community clinic. You have, and continue to be, my brilliant teachers, my most patient guides. You’ve held out your hands and invited people like me to walk with you. To step where you step, traverse a path that I didn’t always see.
But you did. You, or someone like you, so very much like you, teaching someone like me.
So, yes, I’m incredibly honored to be in celebratory spirit with you today. And to say thank you, for what your ilk have already done for so many. And to say thank you, ahead of time, for what you will do for so, so many more.
I’m marinating in my own loving support of each of you, and I look around. I look around today and I realize my words of gratitude are just minor notes, compared to the roar of gratitude that fills this space; and rains down around us. In this joyous congregation of appreciation. This gathering is one more proof point, that this endeavor, this journey you’re on is, and always has been, a team sport. We’re all part of this trek.
Mutual aid in practice.
We see you. We see each other. I want you to know I see the network that makes this possible. You, the parent who poured every ounce of love into someone graduating today. You, the family member, the devoted friend who stood by someone here today; stood by someone who will traverse this stage. We see you, the person who lifted someone up when their spirits were low. And then did it again, and again, unselfishly. We see you, the person who believed in someone here, even when something had them not believing in themselves.
We see you, the peer, the training partner, setting aside your own pain, to ease someone else’s. We see you, the teacher, the mentor, the shepherd, encourager, always ready to help.
We see each other today, we take a moment to pause, to look around, to take this in.
To acknowledge each other, to share this energy. Share in the power of this moment; to be present and appreciated,
to be unmistakably present, right here, right now.
We also know there are more people here than can be seen. We know there are so many more who have been in your corner. In fact, there are people you’ve not met who are part of why you’re here today. There are ancestors in this house of gratitude today. There are ancestors with us today. There is more here than we can see with our eyes. Whatever makes up our selves, the patterns of our personas, our individual colorful and patterned patches, are woven together into a beautiful, glorious quilt. A quilt, whose warmth and tensile strength, helps us know that, even the patches that are far apart are connected. Even when we are far apart we’re still connected. Wherever our journey takes us, we don’t actually leave anyone behind. We are woven together in a quilt whose very nature reminds us we’re never alone.
This quilt…it travels back in time. It tells the story of nursing, the history of caring. This, the nursing profession, is – in a way – a story of us. Of our society, of our history; and it can foretell our future. It is a testament to the best of who we can be. And for every famed moniker of who we can be, for every name we remember, there are countless more shining souls, whose names aren’t recorded as often. For every Florence Nightingale, there is Mother Seacole. A Jamaican-born nurse who was not allowed, to serve in the Crimean War, like Nightingale did. Yet found so many ways to serve the ill and injured. From soldiers returning from war, to those suffering malaria. Served in ways just as deserving as Nightingale, of canonization. All of you, in your heart and soul work, will be doing magnificent things.
Whether it’s written into history or not, we still see you, and appreciate you for all you will do.
You’re still, forever, part of this same loving quilt.
You’re on an amazing journey. In our celebration of you wonderful graduates,
we take loving note of the legacy of nursing that is yours to claim. Claim your legacy, in this sacred space of healing. For you are healers, capable of healing even our deepest wounds.
Capable of raising your voices and bending your talents, toward healing our deepest wounds, individually and societally. Able to contend with our most heartbreaking concerns. Equipped to right our societies greatest wrongs. You are vested, with the honorable mantle of nursing.
You are imbued, with the talents of nurturing and healing. You are spirited, with the legacy of caring. These qualities make you the ideal champions for dignity and justice.
To me, you are the best hope for healthcare equity.
You bring to mind our legacy of champions for equity, dignity and justice. This art and soul, this moment, brings hope. Our ancestors are here, with us, in this sacred space. In this space we see, we honor, we recognize, we are lifted up by Harriet Tubman. Harriet Tubman: nurse, abolitionist, loving guide, conductor to freedom. Proactive treater of societal illness, civil war spy, champion for our better path. Nurturer of our better selves. Harriet Tubman: nurse, especially for civil war soldiers, formerly enslaved people and aging veterans. Tubman’s never-stop spirit is a legacy you are now part of. Her’s is the blazing honor that you inherit. The honor, and responsibility, to passionately speak out against injustice everywhere, while compassionately tending to the ill, anywhere. Your art and soul intermingle in this legacy now. This is now part of your diploma, this is part of the journey, this is part of your quilt. And so, I cherish you and look to your leadership, to guide us through the thick wood and tangling bog of healthcare injustice, on the trail to true equity.
There are countless shining souls in this space with us today. Some have been part of your lives; some have been part of mine. Liz Thomas is part of this space, part of our shared and glorious quilt. Liz Thomas, the University of Washington’s first African American, to graduate from its advanced practice nursing program. And the truest leader of the clinic I worked in.
Ms Thomas demonstrated, every day, that providing dignity is the best component, of the best kind of medicine.
And that dignity is the purest, most fundamental form of equity.
It might feel a little hard to talk about things like dignity and equity right now, especially in the last year or two. Our workforces are exhausted, feel under-appreciated. Time itself seems to tilt against our sense of peace and rejuvenation. Our systems of care are overwhelmed with the levee-breaking surges, of trauma and stress, with the reckonings of under-investments, in things like meaningful mental health services. Hard to talk about these things.
When we are harming each other, and ourselves, in the most tragic manners imaginable. It’s unimaginable, unimaginable, to me, as a pediatrician, to witness a time when the leading cause of death for children in this nation would be gun violence. And yet this is where our country is today. Something so preventable, so directly subject to our shared will.
So much in our control to change.
It is unimaginable to me that we, as a nation, are settling for this.
Well, I won’t settle for anything less than you. Because I’m convinced, that your spirit, your talents, your Tubman spirit, is needed now more than ever. Convinces me that, as champions for equity, you won’t allow these treatable woes, to hold sway. You will guide us on a better path. This is what equity is about. And champions for equity are needed now more than ever.
You are needed now more than ever.
It can feel hard to talk about equity right now, when the executive suites in our healthcare system, are mostly focused on buying each other up; are mostly trying to out-corporate each other. Trying to solve human problems with corporate solutions. It can feel hard…Yet I say to you again, that this is a time when we most need to focus on equity. Because equity is the path to humanizing our existence, our regard for each other. Your ability to cultivate and emanate dignity, the root of equity, helps us see ourselves as valued, caring people, who are worthy of being well cared for. A focus on equity, a fundamental emphasis on dignity,
is the root to rehumanizing healthcare, is the freedom map out of the situations we’ve come to think of as un-navigable, the solutions to the challenges we thought unsolvable.
This moment, this space, with this kind of history…Mother Seacole, Harriet Tubman, Liz Thomas, and so many more shining souls…This is your moment and you are exactly who you need to be. You cradle hope, you are the place where equity holds its greatest potential,
delivers on its greatest promise. And, perhaps, yes; you also hold great responsibility. Your work, your sacrifices, your brilliance, your very existence, has the greatest prospect to ensure a person seeking healthcare, a person otherwise rendered both invisible and, ironically, also harshly over-scrutinized, by this society, can know, thanks to you, that they are respectfully seen. A person ostracized in other spaces, because of their skin color or their abilities, or identities, or any other reason, can feel that they undeniably belong. A person regularly denigrated by poverty, can experience the richness of dignity.
You are the ones who carry that sacred duty. You’re the ones who will notice, when dignity and belonging are missing.
Yours is the profession that has taught, demonstrated, led and demanded, that all the rest of us in healthcare level-up, elevate our regard for dignity. Because there is no ‘care’ in healthcare when dignity is not present. And dignity won’t be found in a corporate playbook. Which is why you – as lighthouses of caring – are so important. So important, in fact, that you should never have to work in environs, that are un-sustaining or demeaning to you. You are wonderful people on a wondrous journey. A lot will be asked of you, you know that, you’ve known that from the start. A lot will be asked of you and, as giving as you are, you will be generous with your hearts and brilliance; well beyond the asking. All the more reason: you deserve to be treated with the greatest respect. Honored for your many gifts and immersed in a healthcare environment, where you are fulfilled and appreciated and justly rewarded.
All the more reason: people like me, who admire you so, should be doing more, a lot more, to help unbuild, deconstruct, tear down, the exhausting and sometimes morally hazardous aspects, of the healthcare system we have today.
It’s time. Time to reimagine this profession, fortify this avocation, and discover the kind of healthcare, that meets this moment in our history, and is worthy of you. You deserve to work in spaces that flow with affirmation, for how much your talents are cherished. Right now, when our healthcare system seems to teeter. Right now, when the future of healthcare hangs in the balance, and must be decided by channeling our best selves. And by calling on our ancestors.
It must be forged by your art and soul.
This quilt called nursing… it’s strong. This may be the very best time to be entering this field.
To answer the calling to become a nurse professional, right when the profession is calling for your voice. To be an influencer, a sculptor of healthcare’s future. And our future, our shared, covalently bound future, welcomes you. We all set our loving gaze upon you and we invite you to usher in, a humane, dignifying and heart-centered era of medicine. So, you see, we need you, each of you, more than any other time in healthcare. We need your wisdom, your compassion, your vigilance. And your ability to be a conscience for the rest of the healthcare family. You are in the position to see everything. From both the perspective of a patient,
and of a provider.
Your rightful place has been prepared for you by your ancestors. Every great nurse has been preparing for your time here. Every spark of brilliance in this profession is lighting your path.
Every nurse before you, the humbly unsung and the widely celebrated. They’re all here, for you. From the names I might know, like: Robin Hall, and Cynthia Brown and Happy Salinas-Santos, and all the cherished nurses I’ve worked beside. From all those nurses you might know; doing-what-they-do to nurture, and heal, and advance the humane journey,
across our communities, hospitals and labs today.
From the nurses whose names many don’t know…To the names we do know…To Harriet Tubman. With an ability only a nurse could have, to transcend enslavement, liberate bodies and souls, transect the Mason Dixon line and transport souls to freedom. Be the warrior for freedom and heal the wounds of others who also fought for liberation. Harriet Tubman, who’s very existence shamed the purveyors of kidnapping, and middle passages, and shackles and forced labor and cultural erasure. Whose power, audacity and ability to heal beyond humans, to heal humanity, could only come from a nurse. Harriet Tubman, who’s enduring spirit shames the worst parts of healthcare today. And glorifies the best of the caring professions… you. Harriet Tubman, who offers her unquenchable fire to you, to carry you forward, each step on your amazing journey to come. To lift you beyond one moment, one hard stretch, even one exhausting tenure.
This quilt called nursing is really beautiful. Known or unsung, every nurse before you is connected to you now. Offering you every one of their best lessons, sharing their love for this work with you. Holding you up higher than maybe you thought you could rise. And holding up hope that you will carry this caring profession a little further still. Hoping the best for you, hoping for your best. And watching all of us, to make sure we do right by you.
Imbue your days with the dignity you deserve. Harriet is watching over you, and she’s watching us too. To make sure we dream alongside you, follow your lead, give you your due, and to make sure we never take your caring for granted.
To make sure we honor your art and soul.