Commencement 2016: Address by Dr. Denise Bruner '70

May 31, 2016 by Guest Faculty Bloggers

Senior graduating class of 2016, I was absolutely flabbergasted when Sally told me that you had selected me to be one of your commencement speakers. I want you to know what an incredible privilege it is for me to be here with you today, celebrating your special day.

It is hard to believe that I was once sitting where you are some 46 years ago.

First things first- let me congratulate you on successfully completing all your requirements to graduate. You all should be proud. I think each of us needs to take a moment to recognize your accomplishments.

SBS has prepared you well for what lies ahead. You have received a great education, a perspective on the global world, engaged in healthy competition ( in sports, debate, etc) and gained confidence to tackle the next phase of your life.

And what comes next is a journey that involves many twists and turns. Today is a milestone in your journey. From here, you will be confronted with many more choices, such as your college major, your career path, where you will want to live, and who will be your life’s partner.

Some of you think that your journey will be a straight road - others will want to take a scenic route to enjoy the ride - But the landscape keeps changing. 46 years ago, words such as cyber security, Google, global warming, TSA, (and, in my case, obesity medicine) were not in our vocabulary. These words reflect the challenges and opportunities of today. The challenges of my generation were different but just as tough to solve (and some are not solved yet - like feeding the ever growing world). We experienced major changes in what was important to our society over the last 46 years. Who would have predicted that the tools we developed to improve our lives (like the iphone) would intimately link our global world together – both with its advantages and problems. And you will experience this rapid change as well. Over the course of your journey, new challenges will occur that will require solutions. Pursuing these solutions will give you unique opportunities to explore other paths in your journey.

The changing landscape provides more choices in your journey - It can also lead to dead ends - as jobs become obsolete or outsourced, or your solutions get eclipsed by others. It happens! These are the kind of experiences that could suck you under water - but having the strength to find the surface and breath again can provide new energy to start you on your new path. So when you are forced to make a U- turn and start on a new path, some would say that you failed. Regrouping often can lead to major breakthroughs and discoveries.

How about a lady who tried unsuccessfully to be a stand up comedian, failed the LSAT twice, sold fax machines for 7 years, but now owns a billion dollar company. That lady is Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx.

J.K. Rowling said, “It is impossible to live without failure at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all - in this case, you fail by default.” All choices involve risk - how you manage the risk is important.

I had no clue when I left Stoneleigh-Burnham that I would go to medical school. I was on a path to go to USC with the aspiration to be a professional bowler. I realized after several years that there were many more opportunities and challenges in the medical profession and decided to go to medical school. After 10 years in family practice, I took the risk to jump into the nascent field of obesity medicine because of my own struggles with weight and the fact that there was very little attention being paid to the disease, obesity. A disease that has such a negative impact on the health and lives of millions. Would obesity medicine survive? Wouldn’t it be easier just to stay with the conventional specialty of family practice? Making that choice to specialize in obesity medicine transformed my life in ways that I never dreamed were possible.

Making that choice to specialize in obesity medicine transformed my life in ways that I never dreamed were possible like:

  • Becoming a leader in the Obesity Medicine Association and lecturing worldwide
  • Appearing as an expert in obesity medicine in such venues as: The Today Show, Good Morning America, Dateline, Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz, and Oprah. Debating with experts such as Dr. Richard Atkins, and Dr. Barry Sears on the treatment of obesity (without the benefit of Dr. Paul Bassett’s coaching!).
  • Helping thousands of people over the last 30 years

The good news is that SBS has given you all the tools you need to face life’s changing landscapes and manage life’s risks. Your strong academic foundation coupled with an environment that nurtures intellectual curiosity, independent thinking, and social responsibility, equips you with the ability to effectively adapt to the changing world. You ladies will be super stars in this quest.

As you embark on this journey, you become global citizens of this world. And the world needs your knowledge, compassion and innovation.

Maya Angelou said “When you learn, teach. When you get, give.”

You don’t have to look very far from this campus to realize that there are many people who need your help – who go to bed hungry, who don’t have any place to live. We need to remember that our journey just does not involve only ourselves but also how we relate to rest of the world.   Sometimes my greatest fulfillments come from going back to the neighborhood where I grew up and helping others in the best way I can.

As you all embark on the next phase of your journey, you will all take different paths. But you all have the common bond of an SBS education. This is unique to all of us. I will be forever grateful that my mother insisted that I attend Stoneleigh-Burnham because SBS didn’t just give me an exemplary education in both academics and life, but also gave me lifelong friends. These are priceless gifts.

I treasure returning to SBS for the meetings and reunions, so that I can reconnect with my classmates along with others who came before and after me. I enjoy giving back to a school that gave me SO much and played a major role in shaping me into the person that I am today. I hope you will do the same and keep SBS in your heart as you go through your life’s journey.

So, class of 2016 - congratulations and good luck in your unique journey of life. Our school has prepared you well. Enjoy the ride – As St. Francis of Sales said, “Be who you are and be it well.” Thank you for allowing me to share this special day with you.

Written by Guest Faculty Bloggers

Occasionally we feature guest contributions from members of our faculty. Their voices provide an exclusive view into the classrooms, halls, lounges, and residence halls that make Stoneleigh-Burnham School such a great place to live, work, and study. To find blogs exclusively from our faculty members, use “The Faculty Perspective” category.

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Filed Under: Graduation, commencement address, Education