Boston University’s 135th Commencement Baccalaureate Address by Dr. William H. Hayling

in Commencement, News Releases
May 18th, 2008

Contact: Colin Riley, 617-353-2240 | criley@bu.edu

Good morning and thank you for such a warm welcome!

Thank you, Dr. Hill, for your kind introduction, and thank you dear classmate, Esther Hopkins, and University Trustees for the invitation to join in your Commencement Exercises this morning.

It is a great honor for me to be here on this occasion because my education and experiences at Boston University gave me a foundation for creating a rewarding, productive, and meaningful life. Boston University prepared me to recognize my strengths as well as my weaknesses. I’ve learned many things during my 82 years. I have practiced medicine for 55 years, delivered over 8,000 babies, developed decent golf and tennis games, have memberships in many organizations – both social and professional – I have a great wife, wonderful daughters, grandchildren, and a great brother and his family – all of whom I’m extremely proud. But the new joy I feel today comes from being a mentor to young people, helping them navigate life in this complex world.

As a child, I was fortunate to have many mentors throughout my life, including my parents. No one can live a fulfilled life or even survive without the help of others. I believe that each of us has the capability to make a difference in solving the human problems that surround us.

When I was 14 years old, my father died and it was a real hardship for my mother, brother, and me. But, I was fortunate to have a very supportive mother and several family friends who became my mentors.

In 1943, I enrolled at Boston University as a pre-med student. I also made the varsity basketball team, which took up a large part of my time, so I decided to withdraw from my organic chemistry class because basketball was more fun. Fortunately for me, I received a stern letter from a family friend and physician who asked me if I was planning on being a basketball player or a doctor? I understood the implications of his question and dropped basketball and concentrated solely on my pre-med subjects.

While I was a decent player, I was not a superstar and had little chance of being picked up by the NBA. He reminded me of that fact. After two years at Boston University, I was accepted as a medical student at Howard University and graduated at the age of 23.

During my medical school years, I had many mentors who helped guide my choices and showed me a path. As I reflect on those people who influenced my life, I realize that the real quality of life is measured by the extent to which you have a positive impact on someone or on some worthy cause.

As a physician specializing in obstetrics and gynecology for over 55 years, I realized that delivering healthy babies and keeping mothers healthy was my occupation, but I began to realize that my true passion was helping young people grow into productive and compassionate leaders. Mentoring newly trained physicians was always rewarding, but helping inner-city youth has become my passion, especially those who have had poor or no male role models in their lives.

I am the founding president of the 100 Black Men of America, a civic organization that implements programs designed to improve the quality of life for African-Americans and other minorities; our focus is to help young people. Today the organization has grown from six chapters to over 105 chapters with more than 10,000 members.

Mentoring is the cornerstone of what the “100” brings to the community by guiding youth in life experiences, fostering positive self-perception, self-respect, encouraging excellence in education and the pursuit of positive lifelong goals.

I don’t know if you remember the movie, “Pay It Forward”? If not, rent it and watch it. The premise is that if each of us can help just one person who is less fortunate and request that whomever we help would in turn help someone else, I believe we would transform our communities and our world. I hope that as you progress through your chosen careers, you will remember to take the time to help someone else along life’s path.

I feel that there are three essential areas in life that must be kept in balance: the personal, the professional, and the spiritual. The key is to mesh these three components to achieve excellence. Many achieve professional excellence but lack the personal excellence in their lives. This can lead to difficulties within their family lives and relationships. The spiritual keeps you anchored during life’s hardships and helps restore your faith.

Having achieved a college education you now have a springboard to fulfilling life. Your education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world, so my main message to you is summed in five points:

1) Average is just not good enough; the pursuit of excellence must be maintained. Even if you never achieve your ideals, always be in pursuit of excellence.

2) Don’t compare your efforts with others. Instead, compare your effort with only the best of which you are capable.

3) Never stop reading, never stop studying, never stop learning. Education, like success, is a journey, not a destination.

4) Cherish and nourish the friendships you’ve made here. Years from now you may forget many things, but there are a few things that you will remember: you will remember a few wonderful teachers who truly inspired and stimulated you, a few great parties and celebrations, but mostly the friendships you’ve made here. Stay in touch with your friends! And,

5) You will make errors in some of your decisions in life, but you must never err in your purpose and resolve. Maintain the requisite faith to do your job well with a combination of stamina, enthusiasm, and dedication that will demonstrate that you are truly committed to helping others. You will come to realize that trust and respect are not given in perpetuity but must be earned day by day.

Finally, as you leave this great university, keep in mind that you now possess the knowledge and tools to help another human being who needs some guidance and who may not have a role model. Become a mentor to someone. You have the power to make a difference! As you reflect on your years at BU, remember that the greatness of an institution is judged not by its library or its endowment but by the contributions of the men and women who go forth from it, the service they render to others, and the humility with which they serve.

Congratulations and good luck!

William H. Hayling is a physician and a founder and first president of 100 Black Men of America

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