Monica Guzmán - recipient of a $5,000 Phi Kappa Phi Graduate Fellowship

I’d like to begin by congratulating each and every one of you on being selected as the 2006 inductees for Phi Kappa Phi. I am very happy to be here and I’m even more excited to see such a great group of students joining us as members of our prestigious organization.

When I was first asked to speak at this ceremony, I wasn’t quite sure what I would say…I thought, what could I possibly say to a group of students who have already done more than simply set high goals for themselves; students who are actively and successfully pursuing their goals. I thought hard about what I would say until I finally remembered there is one thing in particular that even the best students tend to neglect, and that is the value of active learning.

Active learning is a kind of learning that is innate. As children, you learned things through your own experiences; you didn’t read books or listen to lectures telling you how to ride a bike or jump rope, or how to avoid touching hot objects …you learned these things because you experienced them.

As you got older, it’s likely that you started to drift away from learning through your own experiences and instead learned from others, such as your family, who shared their knowledge with you.

Eventually, you may reach a point where you constantly try to learn things before you actually go through them, trying so hard to get ahead of life that you end up learning only through what you read and the things you are told.

All of us here today are great students largely because we share one significant characteristic: our strong ability to learn efficiently from books and lectures. Nevertheless, this same characteristic can cause us to unintentionally forget how important it is to learn from our own personal experiences.

Since we tend to stay in our comfort-zones by doing only the things we do well, we allow ourselves to become dependant on learning things without having to go through them. Unfortunately, we may find ourselves avoiding new opportunities for fear of failing in our attempts to succeed.

Up until two years ago, I was at point where I failed to see there are some things I must learn outside of the classroom.  In part of my personal essay, which I wrote for admittance to medical school and for the Phi Kappa Phi Graduate Fellowship, I talk about the first time I realize that life itself could teach us things that cannot be learned through books. This incident also gave me a chance to clearly see what it is that draws me so strongly to the medical field. At this time I’d like to share that part of my essay in which I describe the experience that that brought me to this realization.

The hall to her room seemed to get longer every time we visited. The anxiousness, nervousness, and grief flushed through my body and created a knot of emotion in my throat fighting its way up as I tried harder to push it back down. My aunt had been diagnosed with pancreatic, lung, and liver cancer and was suffering a slow death. Experiencing the emotional and physical struggle at her bedside was more trying than any clinical experience I have ever had. At that time, I was a junior majoring in biology, and I was already certain that I wanted to practice medicine... Though I learned a lot through my academic preparations, there was something more I had yet to experience.

One morning we walked in to visit my aunt, but were instead greeted by a changed woman: this woman was relaxed and calm, much different than the drained woman to which we were accustomed. I was curious as to what had caused such a dramatic change. My mom and I talked with her for some time when my aunt suddenly paused, deep in thought, and faintly said, "Last night, something weird happened...the doctor came in sometime after midnight, he sat in that chair, and we talked...about life." She smiled weakly and added, "It was nice." It had been a while since she had smiled so comfortably, and I was taken aback, unable to respond. Until then, I only recognized the more obvious ways that physicians could change people's lives. The doctor knew he could not do much more for my aunt, but more than anything else, he remembered that she was human, and that she still had feelings, needs, and most importantly, hope. Experiencing compassion for a loved one impacted my view of medicine dramatically. It was through this incident that I found what is most appealing to me in the medical profession: compassion.

Throughout the rest of my essay I talk about other occurrences as well, but it was this event in particular that allowed me to finally see there are some things that can never be learned from any book, any class, or any assignment.

As a student, there will be many times when you will feel overwhelmed with information, almost as though you’re trying to drink water from a fire hydrant – but it is during these times that you should take a break and try something new. Students of your caliber should strive for more than just academic excellence. By regularly providing yourself with new opportunities, you will become a well-rounded scholar.

As you continue your studies, always keep in mind there is an abundance you can learn from your own experiences as long as you allow yourself to remain curious. If you take only one thing from all that I’ve said this afternoon, remember that it is far more important to remain interested than to be interesting.

Once again, congratulations to all of you, I wish you the best of luck and I expect that you will continue striving for excellence, not because you have to, but because you are capable of it.

Thank You.

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