Editor’s note: We found this Spring 2022 Commencement speech by Amanda Peterson, who graduated with a master’s degree from the Department of Graduate Nursing, to be so insightful and true to students’ experiences, that we decided to publish it.
Hello, my name is Amanda, and I am your commencement speaker for today.
I have decided that the number of people willing to do this kind of thing must be small, because I also spoke at my undergraduate commencement from nursing school many years ago.
But this gives me the perfect chance to up my game, so let’s begin.
I stood there on that stage back in 2006, starry eyed, full of hope and newly acquired textbook knowledge, and spoke about the twenty-three steps of making an occupied bed.
For the laypeople in the audience, that is the fancy way of saying we are changing the sheets on a bed with a human still in it.
Now, sixteen years later, I stand here before you and instead of starry eyes, I have a steel stomach, a hearty caffeine addiction, and an absolute, unconditional love of the healthcare professions. I also now know that making an occupied bed consists of only four steps—shove, tuck, roll, and pull.
When we start our careers, we rely heavily on the science side of nursing. We write things down. We carry scissors. We memorize lab values. We do systematic full-body assessments just like we had been taught.
But what takes a fresh greenhorn nurse and molds them into a seasoned professional? It is called adaptation, and that will be the theme of this speech today, because apparently even grad school commencement speeches require a theme.
Adaptation is arguably the most important nursing skill—life skill, really—and it’s one that is bought with time and honed with experience.
This is the art side of the healthcare professions. It is the ability to roll with the punches and change course as needed. It is when you shift gears based on subtle variations in your patients. It is that 2am phone call to a doctor just because you have a bad feeling. It is the laying of hands.
Adaptation is what I am teaching when I tell my orientees that you only have three things on your To Do list as a nurse—the problem is, the three things keep changing, and the world is burning around you, and you have to learn to keep choosing which things need to come first. This is the skill that makes someone a great healthcare provider and what saves lives.
Adaptation is everything.
The decision to go to college involves adaptation from the very beginning. All of a sudden, you are living on your own and having to make your own choices and adapting to a new environment, new friends, and new learning. I remember when I thought one 8am class and doing laundry was a big, busy day—adaptation.
Graduate school involves next-level adaptation. By this time, we have established careers. We have spouses and children and pets. We have swimming lessons and dentist appointments and t-ball games to go to.
The choice to disrupt all that brings adaptation, and not only from the student but also from those around us. There is homework and time spent away from family. There is less time to work and new financial burdens. There is change.
In my interview for this program, I was told that this choice would be stressful. I told them that life was stressful, and to bring it on.
I now fully regret and retract that statement because as you all know, the universe did, in fact, bring it. In 2019, three weeks after our orientation, my husband was diagnosed with cancer.
Suddenly, the adaptation to grad school took a backseat to the adaptation of life and surgery and scared little kids. And then we rolled with those punches and made it to 2020, and then all of us learned a big lesson in adaptation, am I right?
Overnight it seemed that nothing was certain and every aspect of life for a healthcare worker and a college student was changing.
Class was in person and then it wasn’t. And all of us “elderly” students who had already had to relearn how to type a paper and whose prerequisite to the STATs class was in 2002 and who don’t know the difference between Tinder and Twitter (and no I am not necessarily talking about myself) had to learn how to give Zoom presentations and how to homeschool and do homework with small people dismembering the house around you.
And have I mentioned adaptation yet?!?
And work. And the news. And life…
But this is where this theme of this speech really hits home—we are here. We made it through everything.
Some things in life cannot be taught in school. Adaptation is one of those things.
The ability to recognize that something is wrong. The ability to stay the course despite constant change. Being able to recognize when you yourself are not okay and who you can depend on to be your village.
We have been given the knowledge from our wonderful professors that are watching us graduate today.
But they know that they cannot possibly prepare us for everything that will come out way in our careers. The rest is learned via experience and adaptation.
And I can say, without any doubt, that we have learned more about adaptation in these past few years than we ever thought possible. We have learned to roll with the punches and shift gears and keep every ball in the air.
To our families, our villages here today—thank you for your love and support.
To my own family, who is watching me up here today—thank you, this is for you.
For you all, we did this. This is our moment of triumph. We are not starry-eyed graduates today—we have adapted into so much more. And I am so dang proud of us.
Written by: Amanda Peterson