“Now, it is my privilege to introduce to you our graduate student speaker for this evening, Abraham Salinas…”
And, with that introduction from Dr. Dwayne Smith, senior vice provost and dean of the Office of Graduate Studies, Abraham Salinas, MD, MPH, addressed a crowd of soon-to-be graduates, their families, and faculty at USF’s 101st Commencement.
On Saturday, December 14, Dr. Salinas received a Ph.D. in community and family health from the USF College of Public Health. He was joined on stage by his doctoral advisors, Russell Kirby, PhD, professor of community and family health and Marrell Endowed Chair, and Kathleen Armstrong, PhD, professor in the Morsani College of Medicine and director of the Pediatric Psychology Program.
The following is a transcript of his remarks, including video from the ceremony.
* * *
Good evening … It is a great pleasure to be here with you today on this happy and unforgettable occasion, as we join to celebrate our academic success, in anticipation of what will be the adventure of our lives.
You are the realization of the dreams of today’s generation and a hope for a better tomorrow. Let me be among the first to congratulate you for your achievements. I am here to echo the voices of all graduating students, and I feel immensely honored to be part of this celebration.
I was born in Nicaragua, just as the country was entering its revolution. In fact, my grandfather was assassinated 10 days after my birth. My parents, both dentists, were forced to flee, carrying me in a suitcase. Growing up in a beautiful country that was in constant political turmoil, I could have never imagined that I would stand here in front of you today. After becoming a medical doctor in Nicaragua, I came to USF in 2005 as a Fulbright Scholar to pursue a master’s degree in public health. I have been happy to call USF home for the past eight years and thank the USF community for embracing me right away as a member of this big family. I felt so much at home, that after graduating with my masters degree, I decided to stay and spend the next six years working towards a PhD in public health, an endeavor that comes to realization today.
Public Health is a fascinating field. Public health is “all we do to keep the society and the world healthy”. There is not a single science that is not related to public health, for all professions carry the ultimate goal of improving the physical, mental, and social well-being of individuals.
My field of expertise and research is maternal and child health, and the many lessons I learned during these years can be summarized in the proverb “it takes a village to raise a child”. For example, in my dissertation research, one thing I found out is that the experiences of women’s childhood influence their health during pregnancy and the baby’s health. However, social support from the community can help improve these health outcomes. With that example in mind, I can tell you that we are “the child” today, and it took an entire community to bring us here and make us who we are!
Let me tell you, my dear friends and colleagues: it takes a community to raise a graduate! We must recognize that graduating today is not solely the product of the individual student efforts or the classes we took, but the result of an entire community of dedicated individuals who have been there for us.
Indeed, it has been a great privilege to learn from all of our professors. I would like to also acknowledge the many staff who in one way or another lent us a hand to get us where we are now…
We will never forget our college peers, too. For it has been a great joy to share thousands of learning and life experiences with all of you…
Beyond USF’s walls, I would also like to mention our spouses and children, relatives, and friends. They have supported us and endured the difficulties of student life, while helping us remain mentally sane.
But, the greatest privilege came from helping others in the community, outside USF’s borders! The families that allowed me to help them and their children …The community organizations that opened their doors and their hearts to collaborate with us on diverse projects. Indeed, it takes a community to raise a graduate!
As a representative of international students and all other graduates, I can tell you that I never felt different or separate from the USF community. We have been a very big family indeed.
So, I am proud to say that from today and for the rest of my life I will continue to represent with great honor the University of South Florida! And, I commit to practice what I learned, with integrity and social responsibility.
As we say at the college of Public Health: “Our Practice, Our Passion”. Let it be your blessing, too.
I cannot go on without thanking God, always watching over us. I also thank my parents, Abraham Salinas and Flor de Maria Miranda, who taught me from an early age that no matter how difficult the road is, we must always keep moving forward with strong hope because great blessings await.
Finally, let’s never forget that a commencement is a beginning. Our dreams that today are crystalized are only the starting point. For, to quote my son’s favorite hero, Spider Man, we have now “a great power and a great responsibility” to give back our knowledge, skills, and tireless dedication to the community that saw us grow, and to the people of the world, wherever we go from here.
For the world that needs us, we need to follow our dreams and our passion. As a song says “I can’t tell you where they journey will end, but I know where to start” – HERE AND TODAY, FOLLOW YOUR PASSION, KEEP GOING no matter how difficult the journey.
The victory is yours to take from now on.
Congratulations and Go Bulls!
* * *
Wise words of advice for more than 500 graduates in attendance, including 100 masters and 13 doctorate prepared alumni from the USF College of Public Health. Overall, the USF system conferred 4,276 degrees in ceremonies taking place across three campuses on December 14-15.
Photos courtesy of The Salinas Family