Persevering the Pandemic: Find Faith, Hold Hope, & Embrace Charity

The text below is Danny Scalise’s address to the graduates of Alderson Broaddus University’s Graduate Programs from August 21, 2020

Thank you Dr. Barry for that wonderful introduction.

To Dr. Barry, Dr. Propst, the Board of Governors, the Board of Trustees, faculty and staff, thank you for for the privilege of spending this time with you.  It is truly an honor to address the graduates of Alderson Broaddus University.

To the Class of 2020, I say to you; congratulations Battlers on the culmination of an immense educational feat. 

Graduates, please pause and take a moment and look around the auditorium at the people who are sitting here with us.  For your family and friends that have supported your endeavors, I believe it is important that we acknowledge their presence and thank them for their sacrifices and the encouragement of your educational pursuit. Please give them a round of applause. 

Here we sit, not far from where you received your education.  Phillipi, West Virginia.  It is near the site of the first land battle of the Civil War.  It is the site of the first physician assistant program.  Its also the site of Little Moe’s Bar. 

And here we are at a commencement – the end to your journey at AB.  Commencement doesn’t mean your education has reached its pinnacle.  Your learning doesn’t stop here in this auditorium.  The diploma you are about to receive is a key to your future.  A future filled with greatness.

The Alderson Broaddus motto, from the darkness into the light is a fitting analogy of what you have achieved. You came in to AB in the darkness and your graduation memorializes the time which brought you to the light. 

I realize that you have finished your time at AB with an absence of traditional experience.  I had to explain something similar with my nephew as he graduated from George Washington High School in Charleston earlier this year.  He was upset that he didn’t receive the educational crescendo he had envisioned and planned for.  As an 18 year old, this was one of his biggest accomplishments.  I know he will have many more achievements and this will be a memorable footnote in his life.  However, like my nephew, you should understand the world didn’t stop turning for the pandemic.  Former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson said it best when he said “Everyone has a plan, til they get punched in the mouth”.  SARS-CoV2, COVID-19, the coronavirus, the pandemic, or whatever you call it, it is the world’s punch in the mouth.

Though you have spent the last bit of your life on a bucolic hill in Barbour County,  modern media has made its way to campus.  I’m certain that you are aware of the other plague that our American society is dealing with.  Racism.  

In our country, we’ve seen young people of color unnecessarily lose their lives and families suffer through these losses. We’ve seen movements of unity and racial divide.   We’ve seen the consequences of turning a blind eye to basic civil rights, and it angers me. It angers me to hear of and witness the pain caused by racism. It also angers me to hear people using language that shows hatred and bigotry.   

I am fully aware of the privilege that my skin color provides me.  I hope that you too are aware of the nuances of 20th century racism that has crept into the 21st century.   As educators you must teach the next generation and as health care providers you must heal the sick.  Together, we must work together to eradicate from this planet, racism.

Many people like to say things about being colorblind or exclaiming that they are the opposite of racist.  First, I must tell you the opposite of bigotry is  not a vision deficiency such as colorblindness.  It is love.  The late Thomas Merton, a best selling author, Catholic mystic, and Trappist monk wrote a great deal on race and cultural issues of the 1960s.  One day while walking down the street in Louisville, KY he was at the intersection of 4th and Walnut (now Muhammad Ali Boulevard) when he was “suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers.”   The first and only step to eliminating the plague of racism is love.

As we look to address the issues of our time, we will have successes and we will have failures.  Over the next few decades of your life, you will fail.  I did. Dr. Barry did.  Your professors did.  Inventors, Scientist, Presidents (some more than others), Religious Leaders, CEOs, they have all failed.  When you fail, do not be discouraged at your failure.  Do not accept your failure, but do not forget it.  Learn from it and have faith in the education you received not only from Alderson Broaddus, but also from your mentors, your parents and grand parents.  I was more educated than my grandmother before I was old enough to get a learner’s permit, yet I’m aware of how brilliant she was.  She gave me so much more than I ever knew when she was on this earth.  Treasure that now and don’t forget the education you received and will continue to receive from your elders and from your mentors. This foundation will help you weather the storms of your failures and make you all the better for it.

Not to sound too evangelical, but I truly believe in a level of divine intervention in each of our lives. Perseus, one of the greatest Greek heroes, beheaded the gorgon Medusa and defeated the great sea monster, but did it with divine help from Zeus.  Though that story is a myth, we all come across a gorgon in our life.  More often than not, you’ll need help from the divine in order to succeed.  I find comfort in my Catholic faith.  I hope that you too have a religious faith and that God brings you comfort at times of toil or struggle.

I surmise that most, if not all of you are American citizens and are going to work in the United States.  You will get an opportunity to take part in your government.  It is your right, your responsibility, and your duty to be a part.  As I mentioned earlier, you should continue your education.  One very important subject is civics.  Be an informed voter and go to the polls, or mail in your ballot. As the saying goes, “be the change you want to see in the world.” The first step to that change is action. You should also know, you are constitutionally protected when you ask for help or redress from your government.  Talk to your elected representatives.  It is the best way to ensure the continuation of our Republic.  If you are going to become a citizen, this advice applies to you as well.  

“In times of deep discouragement you should never make a change, but stand firm in the resolutions and decisions that guided you that day before the discouragement.” That is a quote from St. Ignatius of Loyola. Ignatius, the founder of the Society of Jesus, or Jesuits, was reminding us to stick to our guns in times of trouble. Anytime you aren’t certain, go back to your training, your fundamentals, and most important, always stick to your values.

Earlier, I mentioned our nation’s punch in the mouth. COVID-19 is a pandemic. As of last night, it has killed more than 174,000 Americans. While I do not want you to forget or minimize it, I would advise you: don’t accept it, beat it. Accepting defeat against this foe is the guaranteed way to lose the battle. Being that you are all Battlers, I know you don’t like to lose. The way to beat it is to be an advocate for the people you serve. Follow science and do things like wear a mask and keep social distance.

When I finished my first graduate degree, the economy was booming and I had job prospects.  Oddly enough, a few years later the economy fell and I found myself unemployed.  You are entering an economy that has seen record falls.  Fear not, this pandemic will not last forever.  The good news for you, public servants like you are in great demand and the Spanish Flu of 1918 was a predecessor to the roaring 20s, so perhaps we are about to see the Roaring 20’s part 2.

Over the last couple years, you have received the small school experience.  That means your world class professors have been able to spend more time with you.  AB has prepared you for professional life.  The AB vision statement has a section in it that says the school wants to prepare graduates for success and service to humanity.  I have no doubt you will all be successful at your craft.  You are prepared or you would not be here today.  But the second part of that statement is what is key.  You must make yourself servants to humanity for you to fulfill the vision AB has for you.

There have been recent commercials on television that show a physician talking to a patient.  As he walks in the patient’s room he quips that he is now back from suspension and the nurse says he is just OK as a surgeon.  It says something about just ok is not ok.  Each of you received a coveted position in a competitive environment just getting into the program from which you graduate today.   Alderson Broaddus University has not accepted you then trained you to be just OK.  Your professors have not spent the last years of their life teaching you to be an OK part of our society.  I implore you, be renowned as a leader in healthcare and professional higher education.  You have the tools and the talent to be great.   

Every day there is too much on the news about how terrible this politician is or how greedy this businessman is.  I’m not saying they aren’t, but you should know, there is an immense amount of good done in this world.  There are true super heroes and they give me reason to hope.  They don’t wear a cape or a cowl.  They don’t have a hidden identity.  But you should believe in these people.  Take the time to find people to follow, read, study, and imitate.  Of my personal heroes, I include Muhammad Ali, Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, Thomas Jefferson, Ghandi, and Jesus.

Winston Churchill, who many people consider a hero, is often quoted as saying “If you’re not a liberal when you’re 25, you have no heart.  If you’re not a conservative by the time you’re 35, you have no brain.” Churchill actually never said that.  He was the opposite.   Right now, I assume each of you has a passion for your craft. That’s usually what happens when you graduate.  You’re ready to go to work.  You’re full of fire in your belly.  Keep that fire going.  Be an idealist. Remember the feeling of passion you have  today as you continue in your career.  It will make you better at your job.  It will make you a better part of our society.  

As your degree is confirmed, you will be more educated than 87% of people in the united states.  And, considering the wealth of much of this world, you will also be at the top of the global wealth scale. I realize it doesn’t seem like it, but most of the world doesn’t have the living standards we have in this country.  When we hear people say make America great again, I think to myself America still is great, but we have the capacity to do so much more.  

As a child, I remember watching a movie set in medieval times.  One of the scenes showed beggars, something I hadn’t seen in my limited life experience at that time.  They had their hands held out and were on their knees.  They were dirty and had the look of shame on their face.  I had to ask my mother what the beggar was saying.  He said “alms for the poor”.  I did not know what that meant.  Now, in 2020, in the United States, we don’t see beggars like I saw in that film.  That doesn’t mean there isn’t a great deal of need in this state, in this country, or on the planet. 

Please remember what I mentioned earlier, someone helped you to get to this place in your life.  I doubt they asked you for much, if anything in return.  What I’m trying to get at, is the cliche “pay it forward”.  Give back to your university, to non-profits, to local food banks.  Do whatever you can.  Even if it isn’t much, you are making a difference.  Ask yourself this question, if you are giving $5 to the American Cancer Society, what if your fifth dollar funded the research of the person who cured cancer.  Someone made a donation to AB in order for you to be here.

Each of you have received training that it considered a public service, whether healthcare or education, you are doing a service.  Whether you work for government, a non-profit, or the private sector, you are public servants  and you have a duty by virtue of your career.  You have a duty to society.  You have a duty to help people.  Make certain your values are front and center and never forget that duty.

Class of 2020, I pray for your health.  I pray you will have a long, robust career.  It is my great wish that you stay right here in West Virignia to care for the health and well being of our citizens and to educate our young.    If you choose to live elsewhere, to you I give  the same charge, to care for and educate your community.  You have a duty, and we are counting on you.

Published by Danny Scalise

Danny Franklin Scalise, II is the Executive Director and Chief Lobbyist of the West Virginia State Medical Association and its subsidiary organizations as well as a professor of Health Policy at the West Virginia University School of Public Health. He is considered one of the leading health policy experts in West Virginia and is a passionate advocate for public health. Scalise has been a public policy adviser to two Governors. He is well known across West Virginia as a problem solver and a great student of West Virginia politics & the legislative process. As part of the Manchin administration, Danny was the Recovery Czar in West Virginia managing $1.8 billion in grants and entitlement funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
 Danny earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Business Management from West Virginia University Institute of Technology in 2002, his Master of Business Administration from West Virginia University in 2005, and his Master of Public Health degree in Health Policy in 2018. In 2016 he became Certified in Public Health by the National Board of Public Health Examiners. He has been published on and regularly speaks on issues of public health, health policy, and local health department governance & organizational structure. Danny sits on the Board of Directors for the Thomas Health System in South Charleston, WV and in 2019 Mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin appointed him to serve on the Kanawha-Charleston Board of Health which governs the largest and first PHAB Accredited Health Department in West Virginia. 
 Danny has been recognized by Opportunity Nation in 2013 as part of their national Opportunity Leaders & Scholars program and was awarded the “Health Administration Rising Star” by the American Public Health Association in 2016. He is a 2012 Leadership West Virginia graduate, was on the State Journal’s 2016 Generation Next: 40 under 40 list, was named a 2019 Young Gun by West Virginia Executive Magazine, and was given the 2019 Advocacy Award by the West Virginia Immunization Network for his work to protect West Virginia’s childhood immunization laws. Since joining in 2007, Danny has been an active participant in Mensa.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: