James H. Shelton III, the president of Chan Zuckerberg Education at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, urged graduating students in the School of Nursing and Health Studies to believe in their own limitless potential in his commencement address Saturday afternoon.
Shelton was tapped to lead Chan Zuckerberg Education, a science- and education-focused limited liability company launched by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, in May 2016. Prior to that, Shelton served in both the public and private sector, including a six-year stint as program director for education at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and as assistant deputy secretary and deputy secretary of education from 2013-15 in former President Barack Obama’s Department of Education.
Rabbi Rachel Gartner, Georgetown University director for Jewish life, commended NHS students for choosing to serve others beyond Georgetown in her opening remarks. Gartner also called for a moment of silence in remembering the passing of Andrea Jaime (NHS ’17), a Georgetown student who would have graduated with the NHS Class of 2017 but died of bacterial meningitis in September 2014.
“In this open and beautifully vulnerable state, we are in touch too with an aching etched into our souls by the absence of one of our own who should be standing here with us today,” Gartner said. “We honor this moment for Andrea Jaime, whose physical presence we all mourn, but who we feel most palpably today among us.”
The ceremony honored students completing the bachelor’s program in health care management and policy, human science, international health and nursing, as well as students completing masters programs in health systems administration and nursing.
NHS Dean Patricia Cloonan said this year marked the first graduation for students specializing in the clinical nurse leader program of the master’s degree in nursing, as well as the executive master’s in health systems administration.
This year also saw the first graduating cohort of doctors of the nursing practice program. The nine students who earned the doctor of nursing practice degree graduated Friday at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences ceremony as the NHS’s first doctoral graduates.
“I know that each of you sitting before me has developed and cultivated really important skills as critical thinkers, as well as a passion for lifelong learning,” Cloonan said. “Those skills and that passion will allow you to step back and to see opportunities and problems in fresh ways, and we’re confident that it will give your days and years quite an extraordinary dimension of creativity to address the challenges that you will find in our health care environment today.”
Shelton, who received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree, encouraged the members of the Class of 2017 to see their potential for world change.
“Each person changes the world; the only question is for better or worse, or to what degree. What if when you left here, you realized that you were a world changer and destined to do great things?” Shelton said.
According to Shelton, belief in oneself is the most powerful tool in realizing great ideas and dreams.
“People often talk about entrepreneurs as being more risk-seeking. However, I think something slightly different,” Shelton said. “I think because they believe in themselves and their plans, they just think the risk is different. Because of that, they do the thing that distinguishes us between entrepreneurs and those of us with great ideas: They do it.”
Shelton closed his remarks by reminding students to strive toward their goals, bearing in mind that life often unfolds in unexpected ways.
“Believe in yourself and your vision, and know that no one is better prepared to write your story than you are. Have faith as you seek to change the world that no matter what is in front of you, what you desire is on the other side,” Shelton said. “You may be surprised at the stories you will write.”