McMaster Convocation Speech
May 24, 2018
Graduating Class of Medicine and Health Sciences 2018
Madame Chancellor, President Deane, Dr.O'Byrne, Honored Guests, Friends and Family,
Thank you very much for inviting me here today and for this great honour, not only for this honorary degree but also for the opportunity to speak to this beautiful group of young people.
I am a member of the 1988 McMaster Medical School class, well before it was the Michael G. Degroote School of Medicine. Three weeks ago, our class celebrated our 30th med school reunion. You are at an incredible time in your lives. There are so many exciting life changes ahead of you….but thirty years will pass by in a flash.
Between 1990 and 2008, I delivered 2,000 babies. They are now part of the generation we call the Millennials. Most of these are now finishing university degrees, moving away from home, getting married. I have cared for them for over 2 decades and they are near and dear to my heart.
The world has shifted and changed so dramatically in the last 10 years. Your generation is living in a world that looks totally different from the one that existed when I delivered the first millennial baby in August of 1990. Your lives will be very, very different than the lives of your baby-booming parents.
I am deeply concerned for all of you. It is now commonplace for me to prescribe anti-depressants to young people with parents calling me weekly asking me to see their suicidal teenagers. Forty percent of students entering post-secondary school programs today are on some sort of psychotropic drug to settle pervasive and disabling anxiety or treat life-threatening depression
You are the Millennials. You have developed your generational characteristics and reputation at a younger age than any other generation before you. Some would say you are more hopeless, directionless, depressed, and incapable than any generation before you…..the people who have labelled you this way, the boomers in particular, are definitively and utterly wrong.
I am so happy to be here in front of this large and glorious group of graduating millennials because, in 7 minutes, I hope to help you change your collective, generational self-image, your image of the world and the image of your future in it.
What people don’t understand about your generation is that you are struggling to develop within the context of three massive global forces that are all accelerating at an unprecedented rate: Information technology and social media, climate change and globalization. We could call this "The age of accelerations".
You understand social media, we all understand climate change.
Globalization is the process of integration and interdependence of peoples, cultures, countries and economies. We are more connected on a global scale than we have ever been.
Information technology, globalization, climate change; the world is not just being changed by these three accelerating forces, it is being reshaped on a daily basis and the rate of change has now exceeded our human capacity to adapt to these changes.
In the past, major advancements were slow. We had lots of time to change our government systems, educational systems and social systems as the changes occurred. But now new technologies are moving us forward at a dizzying speed. We cannot adapt our societies fast enough to protect citizens from the negative aspects of these forces while giving them access to their limitless value.
At a societal level, our inability to adapt quickly enough has allowed for this enormous space in which the worst impacts of information technology, globalization and climate change are thriving: turmoil in politics in both developed and developing countries, the rise of narcissists elected in part, because of the power of false information and social media, information breaches, terrorism, mass shootings and one environmental disaster after another.
The world is in an unstable state. It’s teetering, uncertain, dizzy and confused.
How can young people, how can you as new graduates, figure out your world, your place in it, your identity in a world that is changing shape every day.
Your path forward in all this craziness is blurred. You may have difficulty finding your identity at a time when finding your identity and your place in the world are two of your most important developmental mandates.
We are all, at least momentarily, disoriented.
But Not for long
“The unprecedented advancements in IT and the rate of these advancements is driving more potential solutions for climate change and a whole host of global challenges like infectious pandemics, poverty, and gender inequality.”
And……most of the solutions to the world’s big problems will come with scientific progress. This is a great room to be in because you are all scientists, and you are brilliant. I am an eternal optimist and I will always believe in the inherent power of one and the collective power of many to drive positive change, to adapt in a crazy world and to learn to thrive.
You will learn to thrive.
You will prove the naysayers wrong.
Here is one miracle of science and technology that has spanned the relatively brief life of my career.
At the age of 23, I was a second-year medical student doing an elective in infectious disease at Dalhousie University. I just happened to be in the room when the first dose of AZT ( one of the first drugs available to treat HIV) was given to the first patient in the country. AZT was not effective on its own and he did not survive but his life inspired me to grow a career that involved caring for those with HIV.
I helped young men die a terrible death for the first 6 years of my practice. Then, in 1996, a cocktail of HIV medications was found to be effective in controlling the disease. Just one month after prescribing these medications and my terminally ill patients returned to good health. We called it the Lazarus effect. The drug regimen was complicated with handfuls of pills taken several times a day. There were often toxic and even deadly side effects.
In 2007, that complicated HIV drug regimen was replaced with Atripla: three combined medications in one pill given once a day.
By 2012, research showed that if you treat an HIV positive person and reduce their viral load to undetectable levels, they virtually cannot transmit the virus.
In 2013, stats showed the effectively treated HIV positive person can live a normal life expectancy.
By 2016, 5 one-pill once daily regimens became available that are so powerful they have the capacity to keep patients alive until the cure with almost no side effects and very rare serious complications.
In 2018, we believe the cure for HIV is less than 10 years away. The WHO has set new targets, the 90:90:90 treatment targets to the end of AIDS by 2030: 90% diagnosed, 90 % treated, 90% with an undetectable Viral Load.
Our collective intelligence, our ability to collect and share vast amounts of information and use technologies to create effective treatments will allow us to end AIDS in my lifetime.
Information technology may have thrown us temporarily off balance but it has also connected us. There are still 1 billion people who are not connected but
“Once we are all connected, the collective brainpower that will be generated will be staggering. It is and will reshape every man-made system that modern society is built on.”
Your generation is not directionless and incapable. Your generation is on the front lines of one of the “greatest transformative moments in history”.
You have at your fingertips, extremely powerful tools in the form of science and technology and I believe these tools can solve every global crisis that exists, but not if you behave the way we did.
Your job as graduates from one of the best universities in the world is to collaborate. A generation not self-focused on consuming and wealth but focused on healing, renewal, regeneration, fairness, inclusiveness and equality: the common good.
I love this excerpt from Thomas Friedman’s book, “Thank you for being late.”
"Information technology is vastly amplifying the power of one. What one person can do both constructively and destructively has been multiplied to a new level. One person may now have the power to destroy many but the flip side is also true, one person can now help so many more people, educate millions, inspire millions; one person can now communicate a new idea, a new vaccine, or a new application to the whole world at once.
And information technology can amplify the power of many. Human beings as a collective are now not just a part of nature; they have become a force of nature. All of us, acting together, now have the power to do good at a speed and scope we have never seen before: to reverse environmental degradation, or to feed, house and cloth every person on the planet, if we set our collective minds to doing so."
Have no limits on your curiosity or the different disciplines you might draw on to drive change. Be radically inclusive. Create your ideas using as many relevant people, processes, platforms, disciplines, organizations and technologies as possible.
You have a great wealth of unleashed potential.
Your generation is and will be a great shimmering power.
You will end AIDS.
You will end poverty
You will wipe out gender inequality
You will reverse the effects of climate change
You will create a fair and equitable world where every person is safe
Congratulations, for succeeding at earning one of the best educations at one of the best universities in the world. You are privileged and to whom much is given, so much is expected.
Best of luck, to my beloved millennials.
Dr. Anne-Marie Zajdlik MD CCFP O.Ont, MSM
Founding Director Bracelet of Hope (braceletofhope.ca)