Gonfalonian William Downing, Speech at 2022 College of Medicine awards

Class of 2022,

I am honored and humbled that you have invited me to speak to you today. The spirit of this event is to gather one last time to celebrate before commencement.  Today, we recognize specific award winners – but we also spotlight the enormous victory shared by all 142 of us – becoming doctors. This chapter in our lives is indeed a celebration of epic proportions.  So now, in this present moment, lets press pause together and reflect on this amazing journey we are about to complete.  The journey called med school.

What a journey it has been!  Med School itself is a very steep climb but then to throw in all the challenges of a global pandemic where moments of fear, uncertainty,  and isolation impacted all of us – it’s truly amazing that we are all here today – on the other side of all that adversity – ready to become doctors.

Neither the pandemic nor the never-ending series of hoops we had to jump through to make it to this point could stop us. If anything, it brought us closer together and strengthened our resolve. 

This shared journey of ours has forged and defined who we are collectively. The class of 2022 is defined by our tenacity and adaptability.

Despite the challenges we all faced. Our class never lost its focus on serving the community and supporting each other. Regardless of circumstance, we volunteered at free clinics, participated in food drives, and showed up at homeless shelters.

As your classmate I have been consistently “blown away” by who you are. I continue to be amazed by your intellect, integrity, and character. 

Over the past weeks, a number of people have pulled me aside and said, “Hey Bill, we are really hoping for some words of wisdom from you.  Especially considering people are already beginning to stress about intern year.”

So, after considerable thought, I selected (3) things to share with you today.


Has anyone ever told you that? It’s the truth.  YOU ARE ENOUGH and you’ve already proven it.

I’ve had a lot of recent conversations about what is stressing people out about intern year.  Some of what I’m hearing is:

 “I feel like I don’t know enough, it’s been too long since I’ve actually seen patients, I won’t measure up,  and what if I lack the skills?”

To all these things that may be spinning around in our heads; I say to you:


You’re exactly where you need to be.  You are well prepared to be excellent interns. You have already proven your capacity to adapt, improvise, and grow. You have jumped through all the hoops and met every challenge.  You are destined to succeed.

And because YOU ARE ENOUGH....let’s all enjoy each and every moment between now and July 1.  Let’s give ourselves permission to chill out, relax, and take a well-deserved victory lap.

This way we will show up on July 1 rested, recharged, and ready.

#2:  Take care of your brand:

When you think of a brand, what comes to mind?  It might be quality or trust.  It might be performance or reliability.  It might be fashion or luxury.  Every brand offers its own unique identity.  People come to count on a trusted brand to deliver something of value. 

In a very real way, you are a brand.  Your name stands for something that you have been building for many years? Your brand is crafted by what you say and even more so by what you do.  Your brand is a direct reflection of how you treat people.

How do we take care of our brand? Now, is a perfect time for each of us to do our own brand audit by taking the time to ask ourselves some questions.  What aspects of yourself are you most satisfied with? What aspects of yourself requires refinement?  What things do you want to people to think or say about you when your name is mentioned?  Lastly, if you are not happy with the answer to any of these questions; what’s preventing you from taking action here and now?  Getting real with ourselves is essential to our growth. We are all works-in-progress. 

The other aspect of taking care of our brand is standing ready to protect it.  Consumer brands that fail are often discontinued and taken off the market.  As we have seen, that can happen to people too. One painful example of this was seen during the Academy Awards.  Another recent example involved an M4 student from another medical school who jeopardized her reputation with one social media post.  I don’t know either one of these individuals personally, but I suspect that they aren’t much different than any of us. Each person experienced a career threatening brand crisis due to one bad decision.  I doubt that either person said, “gee, I think today I’m going to blow up my reputation and damage my career”.  Yet it happens.  I know it could happen to me.  And perhaps it could happen to you. It takes humility to admit this.

We must be intentional about protecting our brand.  We do this by drawing our red lines now when we relaxed and rested.  We must set our own non-negotiable boundaries and stick to them no matter what.  Understand that one day we will be tested.  More times than not, that test happens when during times of fatigue and incredible stress.  Establishing your preset rules of engagement is your key to victory. 

#3:  You can reinvent yourself at any age

Guys, I am speaking from experience on this one.  Earlier in my life if someone would have said, “Hey, what are the odds that you will launch a second career as a doctor when you are in your 50’s?”  My answer would have been, “You’re joking, right?”

You all know my story.  I dropped a CEO gig to go to medical school and I’m pretty sure that the over 50 cohort is probably just me.  In life, personal passions can shift and I chose to take a risk.  I have no regrets. I’m excited about becoming a doctor.  But the greatest unanticipated joy of reinventing myself has been the journey with all of you. This has been a blast.  A true experience of a lifetime.

So, please hear me on this one.  I’m not saying that everyone needs to blow up their career to reinvent themselves that way.  What I am saying is that one day you may feel a tug within you to do something fresh and new. 

When you feel that tug, think twice before dismissing it.  Your age doesn’t have to define your spirit or limit your options. Living life  “out of the box” may be the way God unlocks your full potential and you may be surprised to find that you have a whole new jam!

You are a super talented group and I believe that sky is the limit for each and every one of you.

To close out our time together, I would like to share a favorite quote from Dr. Nido Qubien.

“Each day is a gift.  Cherish it. Use it wisely.  Be grateful for it. Invest your time and energy to enhance your life and improve our world.  This is your day.  Make it count.”

Share this post