Commencement Address 2021

Ting Tin Fu '00

Ting Ting Fu '00

Commencement Address

June 4, 2021

Good morning and thank you for inviting me back today! I’m feeling a little old right now as I realize how long it’s been since my middle school days. When I told one of my former classmates that I was speaking today, he said it felt like TLS was from a different life than now. And he’s not wrong. You all weren’t even born then. Tubby Smith was the UK basketball coach. Cell phones were a novelty, and nobody in school had one. I think we were still mostly using dial-up Internet, and you probably have no idea what that even is. I also remember my English teacher, Mrs. Eames, handing me the first Harry Potter and telling me it was going to be the next big thing, and of course she was right. All of that to say, a lot has changed in the world, and yet you and I also share some common TLS experiences: amazing class trips that, for a bookworm like me, pushed me outside my comfort zone; family style lunches and that hot potato bar; The Mile run every year that I walked more than ran (sorry, Mr. Parlanti); and, of course, an excellent education. Every alumnus who walked through these halls knows what an accomplishment it is to be in your shoes today, so congratulations, and doubly so for surviving this crazy, unprecedented year.
Of course your graduation is the focus of today, but I also want to take a moment to acknowledge and congratulate your parents. You might not realize it, but this is their day as much as it is yours. When I’m examining babies in the regular nursery, I tell the first-time parents that it’s really the kid who will be running the show now, in every regard. It might seem like a joke, but your parents know that this is actually true. They’ve cared for you and guided you and watched with hope (and a bit of anxiety) as you’ve carved your own paths, and they are especially proud of you today. And though I can’t be completely certain, I think your teachers share a parallel sentiment: they’ve guided you through the years and hope that they’ve passed along both knowledge and life skills that will prepare you for your future.
Coming back here today, I can attest that they have. I think no one will be surprised when I say that it was Ms. Lounsbury’s anatomy class that sparked my interest in medicine and first led me down my career path. Neonatology, or intensive care for newborns, is a specialty that most people have never heard of, unless they’ve had a premature or sick baby of their own. At the core, I chose neonatology because I love taking care of babies, but I also love the multifaceted knowledge and skillset it requires beyond anatomy and physiology: there’s the chemistry of acid/base balance in the blood, the physics behind using a ventilator, the biology of how to grow a tiny baby that weighs one pound. There’s also the critical thinking required to read and interpret a medical journal article or conduct my own research studies and the effective communication needed to counsel a family about a difficult diagnosis. I’ve spent years honing these skills, but it all started here.
It turns out that writing papers for Dr. Bonzo was never only about literary analysis. Reciting battle play-by-plays for Miss Cowling’s tests was not purely to learn world history. Solving algebraic equations and geometry proofs didn’t only teach you math theory. In the fast-paced world we live in now, no matter what direction your life takes you, some of the most useful skills you’ll ever possess will be your ability to communicate clearly and articulate your reasoning, to absorb and process an enormous amount of information, and to problem solve. I rely on these fundamental skills every day. And when the world was hit by a pandemic last year, these were some of the same skills that scientists and physicians needed to convey their experiences as COVID spread from country to country, to make the most educated decisions when so much was still uncertain. I hope our lives will be marked by only one pandemic, but no matter what challenges your future holds, I know you’ll look back one day and appreciate with more clarity the impact of your teachers and realize how lucky you are to be a TLS grad.
I am equally certain that you will remember very little from my speech today, as you’re probably more excited about the main event and receiving your diploma. But if you’ll humor me, I’d like to share some lessons I’ve learned over the years that continue to guide me, and maybe one of them will stick with you.
1. You, and only you, run your show. Don’t get me wrong – the support of your family and friends is invaluable and will carry you far, but ultimately, you are responsible for both your actions and inactions. So be proactive, work hard, and believe in yourself. Don’t dwell on “I can’t;” instead, figure out how to make it happen. Chase your dreams and ambitions because no one else will do it for you.
2. Life is full of difficult decisions, especially when there isn’t necessarily a right or a wrong, but often the decision is merely a fork in the road. What truly matters is making the most of the journey you take down that path and how you handle the obstacles and celebrate the triumphs along the way. Take choosing where to go for high school or college as an example. You’ll probably do fine anywhere, but finding where you fit within that community and figuring out how to make the most of what that environment has to offer you that will help you along your journey, both during and after those four years, is how you’re going to flourish.
3. Strive for progress, not perfection. It’s okay if you don’t succeed on the first try. Or second. Or third. That’s not to say you shouldn’t dream big or aim high for yourself, but the reality is that you will fail or at least feel like you’ve failed at some point along the way. Honestly, it will probably happen more than once. But being resilient and learning from your mistakes allows you to improve and overcome your challenges. As Henry Ford said, “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”
4. You will be a lifelong learner. You won’t know everything when you grow up. Spoiler alert: nobody does. Be inquisitive and ask questions, and be open-minded to new concepts and ideas.
5. Be yourself. Be the person that makes you happy. Celebrate your individuality and what makes you unique. Accepting yourself is the key to self-confidence.
Lastly, choose kindness and compassion. We are all human beings, and while our experiences and circumstances may set us apart from others, we have so much in common as well. We love our families. We want to be treated with respect. We all have fear, sadness, hopes, and dreams. Through empathy, we first recognize these commonalities in others and then understand their differences. By showing kindness and compassion to others, a small token of effort on your part can make a lasting impression.
I’ll leave you today with one of my favorite quotations, commonly ascribed to our favorite Kentucky president, Abraham Lincoln: “Whatever you are, be a good one.” Go forth and figure out what you want to be. Whatever you choose, be a good one, but most importantly, be a good person. Congratulations again and best of luck to all of you.
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