Bennett Encourages Class of 2019 to Anticipate the “Fresh Start”

Bennett '85 reflects on his time at Berkeley and offers insightful advice to the class of 2019.

Dr. Craig Bennett, Elected Baccalaureate Speaker and practicing Orthopedic Surgeon

WORDS OF WISDOM: Bennett ’85 urges the class of continually work towards their goals, despite setbacks and frustrations.

Thank you, Headmaster Seivold, for the kind introduction and for giving me the honor to speak to the class of 2019 today. To the faculty, I would like to express my sincere appreciation for all you do and have done to equip this class and all Berkeley classes to leave this school unbelievably prepared for the next step in their lives’ journeys. To all of the parents, compliments and gratitude are in order for helping to raise such accomplished young men and women, as well as for having the foresight to send them to this great institution. Finally to the class of 2019, congratulations for all of the hard work you have put in to get to this point in your lives.

I remember my journey through Berkeley well. I started here in the ninth grade. I had some of the same teachers you guys have had during your years at Berkeley. My first year here was also Mr. Cook’s first year. He was my Algebra I teacher. People like Mrs. Arcuri and Dr. Morris were also here back then. Sadly, over the last one or two years, I believe the last of the teachers that were here when I attended Berkeley have stopped teaching. Although I look back now fondly at my time spent at Berkeley, I do not look at my high school years as the best four years of my life. That may be the same for some of you as well. We often do not get second chances but my second time through Berkeley, as seen through the eyes of my children over the past 15 years, has been a much better experience for me than the first time. George Bernard Shaw has been quoted as saying “Youth is wasted on the young.” As I continue to get older, this quote becomes more and more true for me. If only I could have used the knowledge and experience I have today during my high school years, I think what a much more enjoyable experience it would have been! As I learned later in life through experience, everyone grows up and matures in different ways and at different paces. My time for maturation happened after my four years at Berkeley.

As those of you who may be familiar with my family and myself are aware, we have a great fondness for the game of baseball. Each of our children has played baseball during their childhood and there are many life lessons to learn from the sport. I certainly have learned a lot about life from baseball. I wish I could say it was from playing the sport myself but unfortunately it has been more from observing. I would like to spend the next few minutes reviewing some famous words from one of my favorite baseball personalities, Yogi Berra. To those who don’t like sports or clichés, hang in there for a few minutes as I feel these thoughts may be more stimulating than one might think. I would like to put some of my favorites into the context of what has happened in my life while giving the class of 2019 some advice about how to make the best of your impending college experience and your respective transitions into the everyday unavoidable banality of “adulting.”

Yogi Berra said, “Losing is a learning experience. It teaches you humility. It teaches you to work harder. It is also a powerful motivator.”

When I was in high school I was particularly small and non-athletic. I was not part of any “in” crowds. The really smart people at the top of the class can get away with the lack of some of these traits, as they garner respect from people because of their intellect. I was not really smart enough that my braininess made up for my lack of athleticism. My social skills also left a lot to be desired as well. Although I did relatively well at Berkeley, just like many of you, I did not get into my top choices for college. Don’t get me wrong; I wouldn’t trade my college experience for anything. At the end of my senior year, I was like many of you who sit here today, perhaps not going to your top choice of college and just simply ready to leave your high school years behind you.
My early failures and perceived losses fueled my drive for success. I knew I wanted to be a doctor, and not only that, I knew I wanted to be an orthopedic surgeon. Both of these pathways are incredibly competitive, yet I was able to enter college with both humility and desire. I sincerely think that one’s drive may be proportional to their failures; the more failures one experiences, the more your drive seems to kick in. For those of you ready to get started in the next stage of your lives, just remember, college is like a fresh start – nobody there knows you and reputations do not precede you. Go out and make the best of your brand new opportunities!

Yogi Berra said, “Prediction is very hard, especially about the future.”

Although my pathway to where I wanted to be seemed fairly straightforward, as I knew what I wanted to do from a fairly young age, that is certainly not the case for many, if not most of you. For those of you who know exactly what path through life you want to take, let me first say congratulations. In no time at all, the future will be here for you. To those of you who have little or no idea what you want to do with the rest of your lives, that is fine as well. For both groups of people, let me first recommend taking as many classes in college as you can that have titles that have nothing to do with your major or your presumed profession; simply take as many classes as your schedule permits that pique your curiosity. I was a chemistry major, but some of my favorite classes were unrelated to my major. I took an astronomy class that to this day was one of my favorites. I still have the folder of pictures I took for an astrophotography project. I also took sociology and economics classes that have helped me more in my understanding of our world than most of the classes in my major. I would recommend if you are going into healthcare to consider majoring in something unrelated to science or medicine. The same goes if you plan on going into a business or law-related field. Consider also studying something else you may be interested in, like history or social sciences. Take a class in art history, computer programming or psychology. You have all the time in the world to work in your profession. I would recommend seeing the world. I wish I had taken a semester abroad.

Yogi Berra said, “If there is a fork in the road, take it.”

Some of my most memorable experiences in life have been the ones that have occurred from circumstances or situations that have not been planned or expected. After medical school, which is four years in length, everyone has to do what is called a residency. This is usually three to six years in length and is where you really learn how to become a doctor in the specialty you have chosen. Choosing a residency and its location is somewhat complicated. Basically, you first have to get invited to an interview in the specialty you have chosen at a particular hospital program. For some of the competitive specialties, just getting an interview is a big deal. In the end, you have to rank the places that you would consider spending the next five years of your life in order of preference, only ranking places you could see yourself actually going to. The programs do the same for you, and the whole list is put in some computer database that “matches” physicians with programs. On “Match Day,” every March 15 or so at 12:00, your whole class assembles in an auditorium such as this and everyone opens their envelope at the same time to find out where they will be spending the next part of their lives. As I opened my envelope that day, I learned I was going to train in orthopedic surgery at the University of Chicago. Matching in orthopedic surgery is quite difficult, so I was elated that I had matched. I was thrilled, yet scared, moving to a city where I knew nobody! I could go on telling stories about what an amazing experience my five years in Chicago were. Suffice it to say, I moved there knowing nobody, met my wife Yvette in the first two weeks I was there and loved it so much that my two older sons are now getting to live in Chicago, where they have a lot of family for their college experience!

Yogi Berra said, “It’s pretty far but it doesn’t seem like it.”

There are many things in life that have value. Many people, when asked, might think first of things with material or monetary value. Obviously, there are other things in life with value: love, health, happiness and respect just to name a few. It seems that many people are always looking for shortcuts in order to obtain things of value, be it a “get rich quick” scheme, cheating on a test or trying to get your child into a good college by having someone take their SAT’s.
It turns out that there are no shortcuts. Whether it is trying to get an “A” in a class, studying to become a doctor or raising children and trying to sustain a marriage, all of these things require sustained and often difficult effort. At times, no matter what the endeavor, one will feel tired, frustrated and even defeated, yet the effort continues. This has been true in so many aspects of my life and I can only say that you have to continue to work hard for whatever the goal is. When I have adhered to these principles in my life, I have been fortunate enough to have achieved most of my long-term goals. Keeping these principles in mind, your goals, be they financial or otherwise, may seem pretty far away at the start, but when all is said and done they often don’t feel like it.

Yogi Berra said, “You give 100 percent in the first half of the game, and if that isn’t enough in the second half you give what’s left.”

When you are young and ambitious, there is no reason not to set goals and give it everything you’ve got, before the pressures of relationships, finances and children get in the way of pursuing your dreams. The only way to achieve your goals in life is hard work. The best way to get ahead is to give 100% early in the game, which translates to when you are young. In this age of instant as well as constant communication, I can see it is even more frustrating and painful to delay one’s gratification than in the past because of the seemingly incessant reminders of what all of your “friends” might be doing.
In a famous study called “The Stanford Marshmallow Experiment” in the 1960s, Mischel and Ebbesen led nursery school children ages four to six into an empty room and offered them an Oreo, a pretzel or a marshmallow. They were told they could eat the treat immediately or if they waited 15 minutes before eating their treat, they could have a second treat. Some would cover their eyes, kick the desk, or pull their hair to distract themselves from looking at their marshmallows. Although a minority ate the marshmallow immediately, only about one-third were able to delay long enough to receive the second treat. Follow up studies in the 1980s and 90s showed that the children who were able to wait longer for the rewards tended to have better life outcomes as measured by higher SAT scores, academic competence and the ability to cope with stress in adolescence. Some of these studies have come under fire of late, arguing that socioeconomic status has more to do with a child’s ability to hold out for the second marshmallow. Nevertheless, in the words of the motivational speaker Brian Tracey, “The ability to discipline yourself to delay gratification in the short term in order to enjoy greater rewards in the long term is the indispensable prerequisite for success.”

Yogi Berra said, “You can observe a lot by watching.”

I would like to end my advice with this quote. This saying has several important meanings for me. First, as a young surgeon in training, this was, unfortunately, a way of life for the first few years of our residency. Besides doing all of the “scut” work like drawing blood and writing notes, we occasionally made it into the operating room where our job was to hold retractors and be still, learning from observing. So for me, I can tell you that for the better part of four years I certainly observed a lot by watching!
Although I was frustrated at the time, being forced to stand there for hours on end holding retractors, observing surgery while sleep deprived, little did I know how much these powers of observation would help me later in life. You see you can observe a lot by watching. Some of the things I have observed over the recent past are very different from things I observed while growing up. Now, I’m not insinuating that things were better twenty-five to thirty years ago, just different. To me, the main difference in the world today as I just mentioned, is the ubiquitous presence of information and communication. Arguments at the dinner table amongst friends would often take days or weeks to resolve before someone could prove to the other person’s satisfaction their argument to be true. Now, a simple “Google search” answers the question in seconds. Now, most people living today do not think of this as a burden, but in many ways, it can be. I too am caught up in the constant barrage of information. It is perhaps one of the most common frustrations in my life, although unfortunately, it has made me more able to live my life away from an office.
The ability to communicate has basically given us longer leashes to our work, being able to be reached on the beach or on a cruise or in Europe, has not only empowered us but has also had the unfortunate yet paradoxical effect of taking away some of our freedom. Instead of being free to enjoy the moment, the time off, the experience, we are all too often now so tied to our jobs, as well as documenting our lives through social media that we often forget to live our lives and actually enjoy the moments. This is the observation that I have recently become acutely aware of by watching. By watching my friends, my children and especially by watching myself, I have observed that we are all too often busy documenting the moment rather than living the moment. I encourage all of us to work on trying to put down our electronic leashes in order to live freer lives.

In summary, if you can take any lessons away:
1. Failure can lead to success.
2. It is OK to not know exactly what you want to do with your life.
3. Welcome unexpected circumstances or change; it may lead you to your destiny.
4. There are no shortcuts; while the future may seem far away, it will be here before you know it.
5. Work hard while you are young before life gets more complicated and demanding.
6. Be observant, take the time to disconnect and live your lives.

Finally, as Yogi once said, “If the world were perfect, it wouldn’t be.” Go out there and try to make the world a little more perfect, I wish the class of 2019 the best of luck in the next chapter in each of your lives.