[T]he critical skills of the best surgeons I saw involved the ability to handle complexity and uncertainty. They had developed judgment, mastery of teamwork, and willingness to accept responsibility for the consequences of their choices. In this respect, I realized, surgery turns out to be no different than a life in teaching, public service, business, or almost anything you may decide to pursue. We all face complexity and uncertainty no matter where our path takes us. That means we all face the risk of failure. So along the way, we all are forced to develop these critical capacities—of judgment, teamwork, and acceptance of responsibility.
In commencement addresses like this, people admonish us: take risks; be willing to fail. But this has always puzzled me. Do you want a surgeon whose motto is “I like taking risks”? We do in fact want people to take risks, to strive for difficult goals even when the possibility of failure looms. Progress cannot happen otherwise. But how they do it is what seems to matter.
from Atul Gawande's commencement address at Williams College
The United Nations estimates that poverty has been reduced more in the past 50 years than in the previous 500 years. And much of that reduction has taken place in the last 20 years. The average Chinese person is 10 times richer than he or she was 50 years ago — and lives for 25 years longer. Life expectancy across the world has risen dramatically. We gain five hours of life expectancy every day — without even exercising! A third of all the babies born in the developed world this year will live to be 100.
All this is because of rising standards of living, hygiene, and, of course, medicine. Atul Gawande, a Harvard professor who is also a practicing surgeon, and who also writes about medicine for The New Yorker, writes about a 19th century operation in which the surgeon was trying to amputate his patient’s leg. He succeeded — at that — but accidentally amputated his assistant’s finger as well. Both died of sepsis, and an onlooker died of shock. It is the only known medical procedure to have a 300 percent fatality rate. We’ve come a long way.
from Fareed Zakaria’s commencement address at Harvard
Some of your worst days lie ahead. Graduation is a happy day. But my job is to tell you that if you are going to do anything worthwhile, you will face periods of grinding self-doubt and failure. Be prepared to work through them. I'll spare you my personal details, other than to say that one year after college graduation I had no job, less than $500 in assets, and I was living with an elderly retired couple. The only difference between when I graduated and today is that now no one can afford to retire.from 10 Things Your Commencement Speaker Won't Tell You