Graduates encouraged to find joy amidst life’s challenges

by | Apr 26, 2022 | home feature, News

Contributing Author(s):
Doctor Simpson speaking to graduates

For many prospective college students, they imagine their educational journey as one sipping cappuccino while studying, playing frisbee in the quad, or excelling in their academic coursework. And while that ideal may be reality, for some it can be full of seemingly insurmountable challenges.

At the April 2022 commencement ceremony for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions, Kenneth Simpson, PhD, CCC-SLP, recently retired program director of the Doctor of Speech-Language Pathology (SLPD) program, spoke to graduates, reminding them of the challenges that many students face on their academic journey. 

He described the experiences of one student pursuing her SLPD. During her time in the program, she experienced multiple bouts of pneumonia and bronchitis, in addition to arthritis, scoliosis, spinal stenosis, and degenerative disc disease.

Her employer refused to allow her to accommodate the program’s 15 onsite days so she quit and found a more supportive employer and work environment. But then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and her new position was eliminated.

Two days after relocating to live near an agency that taught adult students from China for her academic research project, a massive windstorm caused citywide damage and shut off the power for five days.

Her academic research project, which was face-to-face and required special modifications due to COVID, was challenged again when the agency she was working with shut down due to limits on international travel during the pandemic.

Then forest fires hit her hometown, causing her to evacuate.

While not all academic journeys face the same amount or level of hardships, Simpson recognized that everyone faces hardships. However, he reminded graduates that joy in life does not have to be situational.

Citing research by psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky, Simpson explained that “much of joy is due to our own actions and attitudes, especially three particular factors.”

First, joy comes from “our ability to reframe situations more positively.” For Simpson’s SLPD student, her ability to see her challenges as an opportunity to become more persistent and resilient helped her move forward through her challenges. 

Second, “joy is dependent on our choice to be kind and generous,” said Simpson. Healthcare providers are privileged, and that privilege may grow alongside money, influence, and power. He said that with that privilege and influence, graduates will have the opportunity to open doors and as they do so, they should remember to be kind and generous.

Finally, joy comes with “our ability to experience gratitude.” Simpson encouraged graduates to expand their joy by recognizing the contributions of those who helped them, directly or indirectly, along their educational journey.

He encouraged graduates to help “someone in the future as a way of thanking those who helped you in the past.”

For Simpson, he still remembers specific healthcare providers he saw 20 years prior because of how they listened and provided care to him in those moments.

“These were healthcare professionals who simply put their patient first, really listening to me as a patient and making sure that their services would–to the best of their ability–be maximized,” he told graduates. “I hope you will do the same.”

To view the commencement ceremony in its entirety, watch the live-streamed video.