What I Want to Say to Graduates


A year of unusual graduations…




Anyone paying attention to the news likely knows how atypical graduation is for college and other students this year. Graduation for medical students and residents is still to come.

With the war as the stimulus, protests and camping out on campus has been conflictual and disruptive. Some have been dismantled by authorities and arrests made. For others, deals were made with the protestors.

Free speech is being debated, especially when it seems harassing, inappropriate, and traumatic. Just recently the Kansas City football player Harrison Butler drew great criticism and calls to be fired for his conservative political content. We in psychiatry certainly know that the childhood taunt of “sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me” is not true. They can feel and be traumatic.

Some graduating ceremonies have been cancelled. Others have moved location. When held as usual, there have been walk-outs of some graduates.

In Milwaukee where I live, the Jewish students at our largest local university have felt traumatized and unsupported by administration. Fortunately, mental health support and care has been readily available. I have provided education about how posttraumatic stress disorder may evolve.

Each year, I try to find model commencement speeches for mental health and, indeed, this is Mental Health Awareness Month. I tried and tried for this year. I finally found one. Here are some excerpts:

“I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, the kind that enables men and nations to grow and to hope and to build a better life for their children . . .

I speak of peace, therefore, as the necessary rational end of rational men . . .

And every graduate of this school, every thoughtful citizen who despairs of war and wishes to bring peace, should begin by looking inward - by examining his own attitude toward the possibilities of peace . . .

Genuine peace must be the product of many nations, the sum of many acts . . .

And history teaches us that enmities between nations, as between individuals, do not last forever . . .

We are both caught up in a vicious and dangerous cycle in which suspicion on one side breeds suspicion on the other, and new weapons beget counter weapons . . .”

Any idea who gave this speak, where and when?

It was President Kennedy at American University in 1963, after the successful resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Over 60 years later, would following these principles help our leaders and support the mental health of all involved? I would think so.

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry and is now in retirement and retirement as a private pro bono community psychiatrist. A prolific writer and speaker, he has done a weekday column titled “Psychiatric Views on the Daily News” and a weekly video, “Psychiatry & Society,” since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged. He was chosen to receive the 2024 Abraham Halpern Humanitarian Award from the American Association for Social Psychiatry. Previously, he received the Administrative Award in 2016 from the American Psychiatric Association, the one-time designation of being a Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Speaker of the Assembly of the APA in 2002, and the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill in 1991. He is an advocate and activist for mental health issues related to climate instability, physician burnout, and xenophobia. He is now editing the final book in a 4-volume series on religions and psychiatry for Springer: Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, Christianity, and now The Eastern Religions, and Spirituality. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times.

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