Denise LaRocca, OTD '19, gives the doctoral hooding address at the Tufts Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Lead With Your Heart

2019 GSAS doctoral hooding student address by Denise LaRocca, O.T.D. '19. 

This moment in time could not be possible without a genuine thank you to the entire Tufts community and our extended network for their unwavering support. To faculty, staff, advisors, peers, and mentors, thank you for believing in our capabilities and continually challenging our way of thinking. To our families, friends, partners, and everyone who has helped us along the way, thank you for being present and encouraging us to always keep going throughout this long and challenging journey. We are tremendously grateful to all of you.

My fellow doctoral students, today we celebrate your impressive accomplishments in your search for understanding. What may have started as a far-fetched or chaotic idea has evolved and culminated into your dissertation, and ultimately your personal story.

I would like to begin by sharing a bit of my story in the hopes that we can identify some common themes in our narratives. Our lives are personal and varied. We share a part of ourselves and express our experiences in nonverbal and verbal ways. My story emanates from a quest narrative that includes struggling with persistent pain and family illness, a near-death experience, a traumatic hand injury, and perceived failures throughout my life. In turn, your stories may contain deep personal sacrifices, painful memories or struggles, or serendipitous anecdotes of how your journey brought you to Tufts. No matter how we arrived here, our triumphs and successes transcend any doubts we may have within ourselves and instill a sense of optimism that we are on the right trajectory. Maybe you can relate to joyful or transformational moments at Tufts such as seeing your data start to make sense, receiving positive affirmations from faculty or mentors, contributing to a novel or growing body of knowledge, or creating a lasting camaraderie with your doctoral cohort and others. Regardless of the breadth and depth of your accomplishments, each of our experiences reflects our resilience or, as some might define it, ‘grit’. In my travels and research, I discovered that the Finnish people call this ‘sisu’, which translates to perseverance beyond adversity. Our tenacity becomes a heartfelt expression of who we are and how we delve into asking, “Why me?”,  or “What if?” and “I wonder?”

One of my favorite quotes is from the Chinese philosopher, Confucius. He stated, “Wherever you go, go with all your heart.” This is how I have led my life and how I have intertwined my story within my qualitative research. My exposure to physical and emotional pain, as well as those moments of joy and gratitude, has emboldened me to delve deeper into questions that reside in my heart. As an occupational therapist, I strive to understand peoples’ experiences in order to envision a future story with them to facilitate their achievement of a quality of life that holds meaning and purpose. When you look back on the process and challenges of your own dissertation, what held meaning for you? What piece of your heart will lead you to translate your findings to have meaning for others? Embarking on our journeys and staying the course through the process of unlearning and learning, may not have come without digging deep inside for something that led you in a direction or down a path. Your resilience and your personal story have kept you focused on the trail ahead. Your own research and leadership in your field have ultimately become a part of you and a reflection of your own worldviews. 

So now, at this moment, your life will change. Who you are takes on a whole new meaning, to you and those around you. What story or narrative are you telling yourself moving forward? Where is your heart taking you in your future research endeavors? Now that you have cultivated your own leadership through your dissertation, how will you lead with your heart? I challenge you to collaborate with individuals who may share common themes or have differing viewpoints. You may find, unexpectedly, that what is deep within you may resonate with someone else’s story. Validating others’ experiences through your professional narrative extends your leadership. The strength lies in leading with your heart and moving through vulnerability. Your individual story and how you reflect your own experiences are the crux of how you will continue to build relationships beyond the foundation you created here at Tufts.

Thank you.