In Commencement Speech, Shelton Tells NHS Graduates to Write Their Own Stories

May 22, 2017 - Stories have the ability to shape, and even govern what we think, said James Shelton, MBA, MA, president of Chan Zuckerberg Education, at the Georgetown University School of Nursing & Health Studies commencement ceremony. By paying attention to our stories, and who is creating them, the better we can choose ones that will help us succeed, Shelton said during the May 20 ceremony on the Healy Lawn.

“No one is better prepared to write your story than you are,” said Shelton, who served as deputy secretary of education under President Barack Obama. And, if in doing so, we “become overwhelmed or lost, it is then that in the best Jesuit tradition, we must have faith to carry us through.”  

The Power and Peril of Stories

“As human beings, we have well-formed stories about ourselves, about each other and about the world,” said Shelton. “It’s how we make sense of the complexity of everyday life.” However, people are more likely to believe stories that are repeated often, even if they are untrue.  

Shelton told the story of Jody Stubler (G’14) MS, FNP-C, RN, who earned a Family Nurse Practitioner master’s degree to enable her to open a clinic for underserved people in Salt Lake City. Some people she told initially expressed doubt that she would be able to carry out her plans, Shelton said, because they had “a narrative about who [she] was and what she could do.”

However, Stubler believed in her narrative enough to bet on herself and her vision, and was ultimately successful.  In 2015, Stubler opened HOPE Family Medical Center founded on the belief that everyone should be able to receive quality health care services in a comfortable, caring environment.

“How many times have we heard ‘one person cannot change the world’?” Shelton said. “In fact, each person changes the world. The only question is for better or worse, and to what degree?”

“The sun is always shining, whether you can see it or not”

Telling one of his own stories, Shelton recalled that one day when he was young, he and his father planned to watch the airplanes taking off from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. As they drove toward the airport, he began to pout, he said, because the sky was cloudy. When Shelton told his father what was bothering him, his father said, “The sun is always shining, whether you can see it or not. And cloudy or not, the planes still need to land.”

Allyn Rosenberger (NHS’17), who received a BS in health care management and policy during the ceremony and was awarded the Dean’s Medal for graduating with the highest GPA, was inspired by Shelton’s story about his father. “Even when life is at its most challenging, there is always joy and hope to be found,” she said.

Kathleen O’Neil
GUMC Communications