Matthew Adan was honored with the "Major of the Year" award at the Kinesiology & Health Sciences department's graduation ceremony. He received a certificate, medal, and will receive a check from the Borgenicht Endowment. Below is the introduction given by the Chair, Michael Deschenes, and Matthew’s speech to the graduating class of 2017.
Now I’d like to move on to the next stage of our graduation program, and introduce the department’s major of the year. This year’s winner, by a unanimous vote of the faculty, is Matt Adan. Through the years I’ve been very fortunate to have some truly impressive students to work with in the laboratory, but Matt goes beyond impressive and is best described as remarkable. And this is not just because of his grades, although earning a perfect 4.0 while taking the very rigorous pre-med curriculum here at William & Mary is, of itself, remarkable. By the way, Matt will be starting medical school at Columbia in the fall after being accepted there and by a host of other outstanding medical schools including University of Virginia, Yale, University of California at San Francisco, and Emory. But what really makes Matt special is that he is able to remain so steady and even-keeled despite an incredible number of demands on his time and energy. He is always willing to help others whether they be new students coming to work in the lab (he is a wonderful teacher to those younger students), or the less fortunate in our local community who visit the Olde Towne Medical Center. At that facility his ability to speak Spanish fluently is so much appreciated and essential to effective communication between patients and the medical personnel there. In fact, one of the main reasons he selected Columbia over the rest of those elite medical schools is because part of his internship will be spent at a clinic in the upstate region of New York where, like some of the western regions here in Virginia, the residents are under served by the medical professions. I think that really captures the kind of person Matt is. Let’s be clear, Matt is going to medical school not because he is smart and that’s what smart young people are supposed to do, he is doing this because he genuinely wants to help others, especially the neediest and he feels that becoming a physician is the best way to help them. In closing, I would like to say to him that it has truly been an honor to have worked with him over the past four years, and that he has brought great pride to the entire department. Let’s have a nice round of applause for the 2017 Kinesiology & Health Sciences major of the year, Mr. Matt Adan!
It’s such an incredible honor to be speaking before all of you today. I’d like to first say thank you to the kinesiology department for giving me this opportunity. It is a responsibility I have not taken lightly and I hope that my words resonate with each of you in some way.
Above all else, congratulations everyone! Four years of college at William and Mary has felt like a marathon at times, with exciting, energetic highs but also some fatigue-filled lows, which we can attribute to lactic acid thanks to having taken human phys. I know it’s taken each of you a lot of dedication and late nights in Swem to arrive at this moment and I’m proud to be graduating alongside the faces I see before me. As Kinesiology majors many of us have experienced some common rites of passage that are shared across the department. These might include working with cadavers in anatomy lab, learning that double pepperoni pizza is applicable to all concepts in human phys or finding out your blood type in phys lab and realizing how incredibly terrifying it is to prick yourself with a needle in the process. Others might relate to never being able to register for health ethics (not until senior year at least), scratching your head over what you could possibly write about for your case study once you got into health ethics and gaining a new appreciation for calculators in the kinesiology statistics course. This department has provided challenges for each of us, but with those challenges also came opportunities for growth and success. I can personally say that I am grateful for the ways in which my major has prepared me to take on the next steps in my career and I’m confident many of you can say the same. This room is full of future physical therapists, occupational therapists, physicians, Ph.D.s, leaders in public health and a list of other paths too long to name. The contributions each of you will make to your respective professions are sure to shape your fields of study and I’m excited to see where the next few years take us.
But instead of getting lost in imagining the future, I’d like to take some time to reflect on the past four years and share some lessons I’ve learned along the way. When I asked Dr. Deschenes what I should talk about during my speech he suggested I speak from the heart about impressions I’ve been left with, so here goes.
I’m a big believer in talking about what you know and as some of you may be aware, one thing I KNOW is yoga. I’ve been a yoga instructor at the campus rec center for the past few years and have had the pleasure of teaching a good number of you a class or two. Yoga has taught me a lot of things about life that I’d like to share with you all, and whether you’re an expert yogi or you’ve never taken a class, I think these five lessons are pretty universal.
Lesson 1: show up. When it comes to early morning yoga classes, dragging yourself out of bed to attend or teach is almost impossible sometimes, but you always feel better afterwards and you’re always glad you went. Happens every single time. And whenever you skip, in the back of your mind you wish you had gone. I’m not a big believer in luck, if you want things to go your way or there’s a certain goal you’re after, show up when you need to, to make it happen. If you want that A in cardio phys you have to show up to lecture, if you want to get better at your sport you have to show up to practice and if you want to learn about fly fishing, you’ve gotta show up to motor learning. That’s just how it goes. Very rarely do we regret giving something our best effort, showing up and showing how much we care. So I urge you all as you move on to the next phase of your lives, to show up in whatever ways are required to pursue your passions
Lesson 2 from my life as a yoga teacher: Say hello. In the moments before yoga class starts as everyone is sitting on their yoga mats waiting for you to start teaching, it’s easy to just act busy and fiddle with your music or stretch quietly, or you can choose to say hello to your participants and make small talk. Several close friendships of mine started in these moments before yoga class, with a smile, a wave and a hello. I’ve learned that small gestures matter in big ways, and this has held true in the kinesiology department just as much as anywhere. A story from a few years ago during my first class in the kines department is a great example. The summer before sophomore year I was on campus taking a few kinesiology classes, one of those being motor learning with Dr. Kohl. A couple of weeks into the class I decided to approach Dr. Kohl after class, just to say hello and chat with him about kinesiology research going on around William and Mary, because I was interested in getting involved. Dr. Kohl promptly asked me “Do you have a minute? Let’s take a walk over to Adair Hall.” Unsuspecting as I was, I happily agreed. After passing through the double doors of Adair, we walked down the hall and up the stairs. I had assumed we were walking to his office, but instead I was led straight into the office of Dr. Deschenes and was introduced to the professor whose research lab I thereafter had the privilege of joining and who would soon become a trusted mentor, my greatest advocate and a valued friend. Dr. Kohl, thank you, that one moment changed my college experience. A simple hello and small conversation shifted the course of my college career for the better, and I’m sure many of you have your own stories of this nature. William and Mary is a pretty warm and fuzzy place where people know each other and saying hello can be fairly easy, but I hope that out in the real world, all of you keep this lesson with you. Even when it’s awkward, even when putting your headphones in and keeping your head down might be easier, say hello. You never know what might come of it.
Lesson 3: Take a deep breath. Yoga is all about moving with your breath and letting it become the rhythm to your practice. It’s so simple but people forget all the time. I can’t count the number of times I catch people struggling to hold a difficult pose in my classes, face turning red from lack of oxygen. No one ever felt relaxed or centered while holding their breath, so it kind of defeats the purpose of yoga. This life lesson has come in handy quite a few times throughout my undergraduate career, like the time I clicked submit twice instead of once when course registration opened on banner (if you’ve done that, you know you get logged out of the system and miss your chance to register for health ethics), or before I took the MCAT, or on the first day of a new job or internship. Just remembering to breathe can make all the difference, because things usually aren’t as bad as they might seem. As you all embark on new firsts, whether it be new cities, new schools or new jobs, remember to just take a moment to pause, take a deep breath and know that you’ve been given knowledge and skill sets to adapt to whatever is thrown your way. I like to say that in yoga your breath is your guide, but really I think it’s true no matter where you’re headed after graduation.
Lesson 4: Everybody sweats (assuming normal physiological function, for all the critics out there). Regardless of whether you’re a conditioned athlete or new to the gym, a regular patron or a yoga first timer, 30 minutes into my class you will be reaching for a sweat towel and a sip of water just the same. We’re all human and struggle from time to time. It’s important to remind ourselves of that, especially in environments where brilliant minds and perfectionistic people might lead you to believe you’re walking among superhumans. We all make mistakes, which means learning to own them and get back up after we make them. They might be small mistakes, like sending an email to the wrong professor, accidentally causing an explosion in organic chemistry lab, or losing your dorm room key that costs a whopping $50 to replace (which are all things I’ve done unfortunately), or they might be mistakes that carry more weight. Either way, not every step we take over the next few years will be in the right direction, probably not every decision will be a good one, but the important thing is that we keep striving towards whatever it is we’re after. Reaching our goals is a process that might take a lifetime and the path most certainly isn’t a direct one, but because we’re human, we have the ability to channel our mistakes into new successes.
Last but not least, lesson 5: Be where your feet are. One of the keys to a good yoga practice is being completely present. Being nowhere but on your mat, both physically and mentally, for the duration of the class. Standing on your mat and really being in that space is much easier said than done, especially with daily to-do lists and Google calendars like I know many of you have had over the past four years. Often times we feel pressured to do more and to take on every offer that comes our way; to tackle our homework and solve a friend’s existential crisis and make it to club meetings and volunteer and maybe throw in a job or sport for good measure. As much I know William and Mary students love to try, we can’t do everything. By becoming professional multi-taskers or getting over-committed, we lose sight of what’s going on in the present. I’m guilty of it myself, my iphone has so many reminders on it that sometimes I feel like I need reminders to set other reminders. I recently attended a workshop series on mindfulness in the hopes of learning the secret to living in the present, but turns out it just takes practice. No one is going to remind you of this every morning, so take it upon yourselves to do so. As we advance towards our future professions, this life lesson isn’t going to get any easier to live by, but I do think that never appreciating what’s in front of you or being immersed in the things you’re involved in is a recipe for lack of self-awareness. Like I said, reaching our goals is going to be a process, and I hope that you will be present for that process and enjoy it every step of the way.
Whether or not I’ve inspired you to give yoga a try, I hope that the lessons it’s taught me have given you some points for reflection and new insights of your own to carry forward. And in fact, we’re all going to take a brief moment to do some yoga right at this very moment with a breath exercise. I know graduation has been a little hectic, so this is a chance to just take a moment for ourselves. I start a lot of my yoga classes this way, so everyone just humor me. I’d like you all to place your feet on the ground and get comfortable in your chairs, hands in your lap or resting on your legs, and if it’s comfortable to do so, close your eyes. Take a moment to pause and focus on your breath, taking some deep inhales and exhales through the nose if that’s comfortable. With each breath cycle, slow and lengthen your breaths a little more, using your diaphragm to fill your lungs as much as possible. Sitting tall, the crown of your head reaching to the ceiling and shoulders rolling down your back. Bring yourself to the present, to this room and this place. Amidst the rush of graduation, we find this moment of stillness. With each exhale, letting go of the things that don’t serve us right here and right now, and with each inhale breathing in new beginnings. (SILENCE) Let’s take 3 more deep breaths, if your neighbor can hear you breathing that’s a good thing. And whenever you’re ready, you can flutter your eyes open. Hopefully we’re all feeling a little more zen now : )
In a way, today is the culmination of many year’s worth of life lessons for us graduates, and if nothing else from today sticks with you I hope that from time to time each of you remind yourself to show up, say hello, take a deep breath, remember that everybody sweats and to be where your feet are. Thank you so much and congratulations to all of you.