Dr. Richard Carmona, Surgeon General of the United States, was the Commencement Speaker at the Ponce School of Medicine's graduation ceremony this past Saturday. Speaking without notes, directly from the heart, Dr. Carmona was eloquent and forceful, a presence that elevated what was a dour and otherwise classless event into a memorable one.
Dr. Carmona is of Puerto Rican descent, his family origins tracing to Ponce and Cataño. Although raised in New York, his "abuelita"--the iron-willed matriarch of her 27 children--insisted in teaching him about his roots, ancestry and Latin American culture. This sense of identity, fostered from childhood as a necessity, gave Dr. Carmona a base from which to evaluate the world and its diversity.
A key point to understanding Dr. Carmona is that he is a high-school dropout--who became Surgeon General. In a path that can only be called "varied," Dr. Carmona was a Special Forces combat soldier, paramedic, registered nurse and deputy, amongst other things. With a level of persistence few could match, he willed himself from marginal to central, from dropout to Top Doctor, betting on himself despite the obstacles. He never took any of his circumstances as weaknesses, nor did he let the limitations of the thinking of those around him limit his own.
Dr. Carmona credits his "abuelita" for supporting him every step of his difficult way and for teaching him the true value of community. In a moment of sincere passion, Dr. Carmona asked the newest health practitioners "Who are you helping come up behind you?" and "What is your legacy going to be?"
With simple words, Dr. Carmona told the graduates that they were sitting there because many, many people had helped them along the way, and that their success could only be extended by helping others make the same journey. And when the future left this day far in the past, he urged each and every one of them to make sure they had created a legacy far beyond personal success, one that encompassed the community, their nation and even the world.
Dr. Carmona spoke as Surgeon General to doctors and Public Health officials, but his words have meaning to all of Us. Who are We helping to come up behind us? What will be Our Legacy when Our time is up?
There have only been 17 Surgeon Generals in the history of the United States. Of those seventeen, only one dropped out of school. Dr. Carmona is one of Ours, a bright star of what Our Talent can produce. There are many others. It is time We brought them forth en masse.
The Jenius Has Spoken.