Following are excerpts from remarks delivered by President Phillips to the Class of 2015 as SCO welcomed them to the start of their first day of orientation on Thursday, August 25, 2011.
It is a distinct pleasure for me to welcome you, the Class of 2015, to Southern College of Optometry. I look forward to spending the next four years with all of you at this institution…and to sharing a profession with you for many years to come.
This is a big step. For some time, each of you has been developing the dream of practicing optometry, and becoming a respected member of the Health Care Consortium. Now, you are here…beginning a four-year process that transforms you from an entering first-year student to a practicing optometric physician. I want to share with you a few comments relative to where you find yourself, and the necessary steps to fulfilling your dreams.
I will go through the Mission Statement of the college in a moment, but to sum it up, students are the primary stakeholder at this college. The Board is committed to providing the best faculty, best technology, best learning environment while keeping costs as low as possible in order to minimize the amount of indebtedness you have when you leave this place. One way to keep indebtedness down is to provide as many scholarships as possible.
I know that this is a very overwhelming time for you. In many ways, if it is NOT, then you aren’t paying attention. We want this time to be a time of learning about your surroundings and make you feel at home. I cannot stress enough the importance of this adjustment. During this first couple of weeks, social activities are at their peak. We are proud of our student organizations…they are all clearly a part of your professional development. As your professional skills develop, so should your leadership development…you will all be presented leadership opportunities in your respective communities in which you will practice. Take advantage of this two week period…but don’t get TOO carried away. Remember you have nearly four years to experience all Memphis has to offer.
From the Vice President of Academic Affairs, to the financial aid office, to an optometric technician in The Eye Center, to each of our security guards…the entire campus shares the mission of leading this profession by educating the best possible health care providers, promoting lifelong learning and fostering a personal commitment to service. We take this mission very seriously.
But as professional adults, YOU are expected to accept the primary responsibility for YOUR development…it is YOUR professional career, after all. Yes, I know this next few days will be a bit overwhelming. You are in a new school, in a new city, and new environment…and for perhaps the first time, you are keenly aware of the fact that what you learn here will be utilized for the rest of your life, in a way that your education process thus far has only generally prepared you for. And I am NOT here to minimize that significance. The knowledge you gain here, the process of diagnosing and treating ocular disease and visual anomalies will, in part, determine how well you perform on your board scores.
You are here because you have the qualities and the desire necessary to complete the program. But admission does not equal graduation. How well you apply yourself here will ultimately determine IF you will be licensed to practice this profession…but also how well you will serve the patients who come to you for care. They will look to you with trusting eyes, counting on you to safeguard their most precious sense…the gift of sight. And I guarantee that none of your patients will want to think that their optometric physician received a C- in Neurophysiology.
Ladies and gentlemen, practicing optometry is a WONDERFUL privilege but it is also an AWESOME responsibility. If you are diligent, over the next four years, the faculty and staff of Southern College of Optometry will make you the best practitioner that you can be. And though it may seem too early to most of you, you should begin NOW thinking about how and where you will use your skills four years from now. It is never too early to begin investigating possibilities; reaching out to potential mentors, associates, partners…I have never heard any graduate complain that they began looking TOO early. There have been several who waited too late.
Are you up to the task? Well, let me tell you something about the class of 2015. The mean age is 23 (by that, I am using “mean” to be the same thing as the average…). There are 33 states represented, tying last year, which was a record for the school. Tennessee leads the pack with 15 students, followed by Arkansas with 11, North Carolina with 10 and Florida with 9. We have four students from Canada.
Two schools tied for the undergraduate school with the most representatives: Brigham Young University and the University of Nebraska with 5 each. The University of Georgia, The University of Illinois, The University of Iowa and The University of Tennessee all had 4 each. 46% are male, 54% are female. There were 865 applicants, and we have accepted 130 for the entering class; all but one has a bachelor’s degrees or higher.
There are 75 with a major in biology. If you throw in microbiology and cell biology, it accounts for 80 of you. But, all is not lost; there are students with degrees in Musical Theatre, Finance, Psychology, Spanish and Political Science. In fact for that Musical Theatre major, a member of the class of 2014 had a Musical Theatre Performance major, and was with the National touring company of Grease.
The student traveling the farthest is Alanna Khattar from Sidney, Nova Scotia who drove 2,151 miles. Close seconds were Chris White from Folsom, CA (You are for sure going to tour Sun Studios here aren’t you?) and Aaron Neufield from Fremont, CA. By contrast, Pinto Ng came a whopping 13.8 miles from his home in Bartlett.
There are two Andrew David Browns in the class. One from MO and one from AR. They are not EVEN related. There are two Zinks and a Zhang in the class, thus quadrupling our enrollment of “Zs” from one to four.
The average GPA is 3.53 which is a new record, and the average OAT is 326. The highest OAT score by category was in Reading Comprehension. That’s good…you’re going to need that. So we know that you have the raw materials…and the ability. Make it count. Decide now…it is your time to shine.
You will be challenged. There will be times when it will be grueling. There will be times when you will questions yourselves…when it gets tough, dig deeper. You owe it to yourself, because you have struggled to get here. You owe it to the patients you will be seeing for the rest of your professional life, because they trust that you learned as much as you could…for them. And you owe it to the 7 others who wanted to sit in the seat each of you are sitting in right now.
Don’t misunderstand me. You are in for some wonderful times ahead. Look around at your classmates…these people will be your friends for life. Yes, you will feel as if you are somewhat competing against one another at times…but when it counts, you will stand up for each other…you will help one another…you will support your classmates when they are struggling …you will kick your classmates’ backside…(figuratively)… when they are slacking.
In a few short weeks, I will shake your hand as you put on your white coat for the first time. And in May 2015, I will be proud to shake your hand once more, and welcome you into this wonderful profession as a colleague.
Sometime in the next few weeks, I would ask you to go to the 11th floor and look at the pictures of the classes that have gone before. I do that on a regular basis…when things are difficult, or when I feel like celebrating. Especially pay attention to the pictures on the East Side, along the Finance & Accounting offices. These are the people who paved the way for us…who fought the battles…who made certain that the profession of optometry evolved to what it is today.
I am reminded of a scene from the movie “Dead Poet Society”, I suggest you see it if you have not. There is a scene in it when the professor, played by Robin Williams, leads his class of young men running through the forest, across campus, through hallways and leads them to the archives of the institution, and challenges them with his considerable intellect. They run into the room, breathless, and confront pictures of those who have gone before them. The ingenious, innovative and intuitive professor talks to them about those who have gone before…and says something like this:
“They’re not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they’re destined for great things, just like many of you. Their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because, you see gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen, you hear it? – - Carpe – - hear it? – - Carpe, carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary.”
So I congratulate you on making it this far. You have NEVER had so much riding on your education as you will for the next four years. Make the most of it. Seize the day! Let us know any time we can be of help to you. It really is the only reason that we are here. Enjoy learning the art and science of optometry. Master it. Then you can do what you have been dreaming of.