The Lucky Ones

HSDM graduate Nisarg Amrish Patel talks about the journey to Class Day

Nisarg Amrish Patel

Just one day after the Red Sox won the 2013 World Series, I made my first visit to Harvard, and was fortunate enough to share that moment with two classmates now sitting in the rows in front of me. As I set foot on the Quad, I felt different. Perhaps it was the stoic marble of Gordon Hall, the sparkling glass of the research and education building, or the crisp wind chilling the autumn air around a boy born and raised in the scorching Arizona desert.

Whatever it was, I was swept off my feet, pulled into what felt like an academic Narnia. A campus where raw intellect and inspiration seeped through the cracks of every sidewalk, creativity permeated the windowsills and the aura of the institution itself felt inexplicably magical. As if anything—everything—was possible here. The status quo was no longer a barrier. It was a challenge. Here, we were defining the national debate on health policy, leading the charge in cancer immunotherapy, designing infrastructure to fight infectious diseases in the most remote areas of the world and pioneering the quest to edit the human genome. We had an amalgam of ideas and the illogically idealistic notion that everything we did would change the world.

Read more about HMS/HSDM Commencement and Class Day here.

We were the lucky ones.

Never had the words of the late Steve Jobs rung truer in my mind: ‘The people who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.’

Four years later, it’s an honor to be standing here today among esteemed professors, loving families and the Class of 2018, and an enormous honor to be speaking on its behalf. I’d like to give thanks to our families, partners and friends for their unwavering encouragement and support. There can be no argument that you instilled in us a virtue to carve new paths, steered us in the right direction when we had to make tough decisions under uncertainty and offered both hands to us when we were down.

"The status quo was no longer a barrier. It was a challenge."

Thank you to our faculty for inspiring us to continue our pursuit of knowledge beyond the walls of this institution, exemplifying our school’s mission to treat patients with both science and compassion and bending over backwards to help each of us pursue our goals and make it onto the Quad today. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a bit surprised to be here myself.

As our class parts ways to every corner of the country next month, I’d like to share a few moments that have brought us together over the past four years.

The 34 of us started at the medical school in 2014 as the last guard of the old curriculum, the last class at HSDM to spend two full years experiencing HMS to the fullest and belittling a flipped classroom we would never know.

After MCM with Dr. Randy King gave us a false sense of security, we weathered eight hours a day of anatomy lab while our medical school colleagues were at El Pelon satisfying their formaldehyde-induced burrito cravings.

And every cool Sunday night in the spring, we’d gather in a dimly lit TMEC amphitheater to watch “Game of Thrones,” although by each year’s end, our mandatory meeting with the financial aid office had us thinking more about our own Game of Loans.

And who could forget that brief week in December of 2015, when we were renamed the Harvard Colgate School of Dental Medicine for Harvard’s very last, and very best, Second Year Show.

Finally, we ended our time in medical school with Dr. Shields’ course on the gastrointestinal system. I can now confidently say that, having learned how to do a hands-on rectal exam, our class can uniquely market ourselves as the only dentists proficient at both ends.

By third year, we had reached a critical juncture in our training. Seeing our very own patients with a high-speed drill in our inexperienced palms felt like drinking from a firehose. None of us were perfect, although some of us perf’d.

But over the next two years, thanks to our persistence, camaraderie and remote Axium access, we not only learned how to see, hear and care for patients ourselves, but also to draw upon our newfound knowledge and experience to change the practice and delivery of dental medicine. Our class grew dental education and infrastructure in Rwanda, analyzed the intersection of oral health and HIV in South Africa, designed financial models to help Medicaid patients access dental care in clinics instead of the emergency room and built software to educate thousands of patients across the globe at a push of a button.

As Harvard graduates, we have both the fortune of having a limelight shining on our shoulders wherever we go, and an important responsibility that comes with that illumination. We can–and already have–carved a path for the future of dental medicine in ways that have eluded our predecessors. So, while today is an occasion for celebration, we shouldn’t simply rest on our laurels. We’ve made great strides as students. Let’s make leaps as doctors.

People say that you become the average of those you spend time with most. After spending hundreds of thousands of dollars literally putting my money where my mouth is, I couldn’t imagine a better group of people to mold me into who I am today. Congratulations, Class of 2018! I’ll miss you.

Adapted from a speech given by HSDM graduate Nisarg Amrish Patel at Class Day on May 24, 2018.