GSBS Speaker Speech - Trevor Morin

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Phil Zamore suggested I start my speech by telling all of you that life isn’t fair, and that my friends in business received big bonuses this year that they don’t deserve. Well, I refuse to start my speech on such a dour note. I’m here to say that life isn’t fair or unfair, but YOUR life, my fellow graduates, is what YOU make it. 

I was born with a hole in my heart, and underwent open heart surgery when only a few months old. I don’t waste time analyzing whether that was fair or not. At four years of age I underwent a second open heart surgery to correct a coractation of my aorta; I survived, and again, haven’t given much thought as to whether that was fair or unfair. At age 18 I underwent a third open heart surgery, this time to repair an aortic aneurism. I survived this too, but this setback did give me pause, for at the time I was training for a career as a professional thoroughbred jockey.

The race track and its galloping thoroughbreds was my passion, it completely consumed me. It was, I thought, my calling. After the surgery I was fearful I would never ride again and realized, at 18, that we are all mortal and, in my mind, burning our time on nature’s quickly ticking clock.

In excruciating pain I hurried my comeback to the races, a mistake as I couldn’t hold back horses and soon rumors circulated around the backstretch that I was a cripple with a weak heart. Maybe life isn’t fair. I was down, but not out. I entered Shepherd College in West Virginia. The most important thing about Shepherd is that it’s fewer than six miles from Charles Town Race track. After a semester of college and physical recovery I started riding again. A renewed energy and excitement overcame me and I developed a reputation as someone who would ride the most difficult horses. I quickly gained the respect of the top trainers and rode the best horses. I was living my dream.

Then, in a split second it was over. A green two-year-old I was galloping threw me hard into the rail. I shattered both wrists and knew instantly my comeback was over, possibly indefinitely. Life isn’t fair. My interest in school had waned so much Shepherd asked me not to return, my high school girlfriend dumped me by e-mail and the one thing I loved, the one thing that made me feel superhuman, was gone.

Washed up and worthless, I entered a deep, dark depression that most people, unless they’ve been there themselves, are incapable of comprehending. Like many depressed individuals I turned to drugs and alcohol and before I knew it my life had spun out of control. I lost the respect of my family and my friends, thankfully not their love and support. Sickened by my own refection, my passion for life was gone. I was the walking dead. After being institutionalized and failing rehabs, I finally reached bottom, and what would be some of the hardest months of my life began. I got off drugs and started classes at UMass Boston. At UMB I met Esther, once a homeless alcoholic, now a JFK award winner and John Hopkins Medical School graduate. I met Annika, who also had past demons and is now finishing her residency in oral surgery at UPenn. I met Tunde, a gangbanger and crack dealer who is now a post doc at Harvard. Needless to say, I found the perfect place for a washed up jockey-turned-junkie to make a new start.

University of Massachusetts professors put passion into teaching and put passion back into my life—passion for science, for the truth. As my chemical dependencies diminished, my academics flourished and UMB unlocked potential I didn’t know I had. After graduating UMass Boston I was determined to continue a career in science. Although I visited multiple graduate schools, again the UMass system was superior.

I don’t need to lecture today’s audience on the many incredible accomplishments made by UMass Medical School professors and students, and the wealth of opportunities we have been provided by the University. After graduating I’ve been fortunate to keep my affiliation with the University by working for Dr. Donna Ambrosino at MassBiologics, creating drugs for unmet medical needs. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished, but I’m far from perfect (my wife can attest to that) and realize life is a journey of continued self betterment.

I don’t know if is fair that I’ve been afforded the opportunity to share my story with you, while I’m sure some of today’s graduates have overcome even greater obstacles to earn their seat at this Commencement ceremony. And I still don’t know if life is fair or unfair. But I do know that at some point in all of our lives we need a hand to lift us up from despair and when someone offers that hand, grab it, hold it and accept their help because your life is what you make it! And, by god, when you see someone suffering in a hole of desperation and hopelessness, do not give up on them! Instead, extend your hand and lift them out of that hole, because like Esther, like Annika, like Tunde, you never know what greatness exists inside and the feats they or YOU may accomplish!

Congratulation class of 2010, we deserve it!

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