Harvard Medical School - 2023 Class Day Student Address: Leen Al Kassab



It is my pleasure to now introduce

the next Harvard Medical School 2023 speaker, Leen Al Kassab.


For those of you who have not seen her featured

on Harvard’s Instagram feed, you may remember her

as Cannon’s birthday baker or more infamously

as the perpetrator of the Vandy 2019 kitchen fire.


Believe me when I say I was not amused at the time.

I still remember standing in the freezing cold when it was

negative 10 degrees outside.

But honestly, you can’t ever be that mad at Leen.

She’s one of the kindest people you will ever meet,

and I’m grateful to call her a close friend.

Leen is a member of the Pathways MD entering class of 2018,

taking a fifth year for research,

graduating today with the class of 2023.

Leen is originally from Damascus, Syria, and Sidon,

Lebanon, by way of Dubai, UAE, and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

She moved to the US and graduated from Harvard College

in 2018 having studied molecular and cellular biology

with a secondary in global health and health policy.

She has been an integral student leader of the Arab community

on campus since and is a resident tutor

at the college’s Adams House.

Her passions lie at the intersection

of women’s health and refugee and immigrant health.

And she will soon be starting residency in obstetrics

and gynecology in the combined Brigham and Women’s

Massachusetts General Hospital program right here at Harvard.


Her remarks are entitled “Physician Ambassadors.”

Join me in welcoming Leen to the stage.


Good afternoon, everybody.

[NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] It is a pleasure to be here and share

some reflections with you today.

Today is a special day for many reasons.

But it is extra special for me as some of you

may know because my father, who is a Syrian passport holder,

could not make it to my 2018 college graduation or my White

Coat Ceremony.

But thankfully, he is here today.


He’s here alongside my incredible mother, my brother,

the best of lifelong friends, and classmates.

And I’m so grateful.

It is an honor to be a part of this day with all the families

and parents here, physically, virtually, and in spirits,

collectively celebrating our and truly your incredible milestone

and significant achievements, a culmination of over 10,

even 25 years of your guidance, support, patience,

and encouragement.

We thank you.

During my time at HMS, I took a research year

to work on an immigrant women’s health project.

And through many focus group discussions,

the concept of identity, the strength and empowerment

it brings, was so palpable.

I reflected on what cultural and religious identity meant to me,

how it empowers me and intersects with my identity as,

dare I say now, a physician.

After nine years in the US and on Harvard’s campus,

every time I see someone from my home region,

the first question I get is, how are you treated there?

Do you face any challenges because of your headscarf

or because you’re Arab?

Thought-provoking questions like this

did not only come from those far away.

During PCE, a clerkship director was checking in with me

about my experience with patients and faculty,

asking me the same question.

Later, during my residency interview trail,

noting that my personal statement

and extracurricular activities were all

relevant to my identity as an Arab Muslim woman,

an interviewer asked me, what make you–

what made you feel like you can so openly and unapologetically

be yourself?

Can be hard to quiet the noise as a busy medical student

and reflect on your own identity.

But I owed that reflection to myself and to those asking.

The question prompted me to wonder about the weight

of wearing my identity.

Is it burdensome to me, inconvenient to others?

The answer was never simple or concrete.

It was always so undeniably complex,

a composite of experiences, memories, stories,

and internalized perspectives, never simple,

much like identities.

I thought back to an experience I had at the Harvard Square

Homeless Shelter, where I was doing intake

with a guest who was getting an overnight bed, an experience

much similar to doing a new admission for a patient.

Next morning, he shared that someone on his Facebook feed

had made an Islamophobic post.

But this time, he took it upon himself to comment, saying,

you don’t know what you’re talking about.

You’ve never met a Muslim.

I met one last night, and she treated me

with more kindness than anyone.

I would have never thought that how

I interacted with this guest after a long night

of volunteering would be ingrained in his mind as what

Muslims are like.

I am grateful that I was able to present

a real-world manifestation of the values my identity is

founded upon and deconstruct misinformed assumptions

about it.

In recalling stories like this one,

I recognized that while no one ecosystem is perfect,

Harvard is a special place that respects

and promotes celebrating individual identities in all

its kinds.

And it was a privilege to be here

and to be a part of its community.

Throughout the years–


Throughout the years, away from home

and from a decade-long civil war,

I have grown to recognize that with privilege comes power,

and with power comes responsibility.

And by virtue of us being here, we

have accepted that responsibility.

When I first got into Harvard, my uncle called me

[NON-ENGLISH],, which translates to ambassador.

He called me this to refer to the identity

I was to exemplify and represent in this new place.

There was so much pride, excitement, and pressure

in just one word.

I am not unique in holding an identity that

shapes my worldview and values.

Each one of us has their own beautifully crafted,

ever-evolving identity.

But perhaps one remarkable identity

we now share and visibly wear together is that of medicine.

In just two weeks, we will all be

wearing our big, bright badges that reads

MD or doctor or physician.

We will all be wearing our not short length white coats.

We will be carrying our stethoscopes, probably

not in surgery.

And we’ll probably be wearing our scrubs.

I think now is a good time to reflect on the responsibility,

power, and privilege that comes with carrying

the weight of hereon wearing your identity as a physician.

It is important to always think about

how, as physicians, our individual 15-minute

interactions with one patient may

have ripple effects on their future interactions

or lack thereof with health care systems and professionals

for themselves and their families

and for consequential decisions they make with regards

to their well-being.

We may have rough days.

We may experience burnout.

We may not be perfect.

And the identity of our profession

does not fall on one individual.

But as we celebrate the privilege of living out

our dream of becoming doctors, let

us remember to maintain the things we learned in POM.

Remember to nurture your empathy, your compassion,

your willingness to be an educator,

to check your assumptions and stigma, to advocate

for your patients and to go the extra mile.

Our interactions and care, no matter

how fleeting, are representative, ingrained,

and consequential to those we’ve dedicated

the last several years to and care most about, our patients.

The beauty of the duality in our profession

is that we are often both the scientist and the advocate,

the empathetic caretaker and the tough news-bearer,

the advisor and the listener, the entrusted teacher

and the lifelong student.

We are also the physician and the ambassador.

Graduating today from Harvard Medical School–

yes, take that in, we really did it–

we are each [NON-ENGLISH] or [NON-ENGLISH],,

ambassadors of both the identity we openly and unapologetically

carry as individuals and now our shared identity as physicians.


If the white coat had an identity,

then our identity is humanity, wherever we may be.

May we all proudly wear our white coats

and take on our responsibility as ambassadors

of this profession.

Thank you.


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