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Sanjay Gupta Calls on Harvard Medical and Dental Graduates to Heed the ‘Clarion Call of Compassion’

Graduates of Harvard Medical School and the School of Dental Medicine receive their degrees at a ceremony in the HMS Quad.
Graduates of Harvard Medical School and the School of Dental Medicine receive their degrees at a ceremony in the HMS Quad. By Claire Yuan
By Natalie K Bandura, Crimson Staff Writer

Sanjay Gupta — an Emmy award-winning chief medical correspondent for CNN — dubbed Harvard Medical School and School of Dental Medicine graduates the “new guardians of the galaxy” at their joint class day Thursday.

During his address, Gupta reflected on the increased urgency of the medical profession in a time of increased suspicion of others, inequality of access to healthcare, and decreased life expectancy. His speech followed University-wide Commencement exercises earlier in the day, which featured a keynote address from actor Tom Hanks.

Gupta, an associate chief of neurosurgery at Grady Memorial Hospital, dedicated much of his speech to sharing life lessons with the graduating class that he said he wished he had known at the time of his own graduation.

After encouraging graduates to appreciate the “clarion call of compassion” that is crucial to the practice of medicine, Gupta told the class that the right decision — and the choice that over time feels best in “this most human of all professions” — is to always be kind.

“Smile a lot, even use humor,” Gupta said.

Gupta also pushed back against the common phrase “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” telling graduates to “keep fixing it.”

“Progress, it turns out, is actually quite chaotic and messy, but here’s the thing: one of those shots on goal could amount to something, could mean something new, something transformative,” Gupta said.

Gupta advised the class not to dedicate their time to proving their intelligence by knowing all of the answers — and to instead work toward becoming wiser by posing the best questions.

“Along the way you may find yourself starting to no longer just continuously memorize the past, but instead, changing the future,” Gupta said. “Respect history, but don’t be afraid to make some.”

Reflecting on the connections he has made over his more than 20 years in medicine and media, Gupta urged graduates to focus not only on the factual information of their profession, but to “remember the stories” of patients’ lives that can foster deep learning.

Gupta recalled a story in his own practice, when a 93-year-old man with bleeding in his brain was brought to the emergency room. While Gupta’s initial thought was that the man was too old for an operation, he learned that the man still worked as an accountant and was an avid runner, and that his accident occurred when had tried to use a leaf blower on the roof.

Gupta changed his mind and performed the surgery, and soon after the operation, he said the man was already awake and reading the news about a recent election in West Africa.

In closing, Gupta called on graduates to cherish their friendships.

“Of the few touchstones that you hold close to your heart, place lifelong friendships right there at the very top,” Gupta said. “Appreciate those friendships, nurture them, make them grow, and realize as you get older, those friendships will become some of the most valuable things in your life.”

—Staff writer Natalie K Bandura can be reached at

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