Commencement speaker urges graduates to pursue their true calling

Nobel Laureate Dr. Robert Lefkowitz delivered the 2018 commencement address, in which he discussed the importance and power of experiencing a true calling.

Lefkowitz, the James B. Duke Professor of Medicine and professor of biochemistry and chemistry at the Duke University Medical Center and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, also was one of the honorary degree recipients at Baylor’s graduation for the School of Medicine and the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.

View his full address.


There are several important elements in the notion of a calling, he said, including:

  • Belief in what you are doing and its importance, which will empower you to achieve more than you thought possible;
  • Conviction that you were meant to do this and that the work fully engages the best of your innate talents and abilities;
  • A sense of enthusiasm and optimism about what you are doing.

Several ‘diagnostic tests’ can inform whether you are responding to a calling, Lefkowitz told the graduates.

“Do you feel passionate engagement, does it intensely focus your concentration, do you experience a sense of timelessness, do you have sense that work is not work, but what you were meant to do? Hopefully in the years ahead, you will answer an emphatic yes to these questions.”

However, Lefkowitz said that some, like him, may experience more than one calling. For the Bronx native, one of his early role models, in addition to Yankee great Mickey Mantle, was the family physician, and Lefkowitz knew from the third grade that he would become a physician as well. Later, he would realize that the focus of his life’s work would lie in the laboratory rather than at the bedside. He went on to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2012 for his groundbreaking discoveries that reveal the inner workings of G-protein-coupled receptors, which live on cells in the body and enable them to sense and adapt to their environment.

“I don’t believe that for any individual, there is only one possible best choice,” he said. “In my own case, I heard a calling to two careers and know many who have reinvented themselves in a variety of roles. One of the wonderful things about a career in medicine and the other health professions is that the journey has so many possible itineraries and destinations. I would hope that none of you will ever feel hemmed in or confined by early choices.”

In following one’s calling, Lefkowitz reminded the graduates that there is more to life than work and that they must maintain a balance between their medical or scientific career and family life.

“My fondest wish for you is that in the years ahead you will feel, as I have throughout my career, that your two favorite times of day are when you leave for work in the morning, anticipating the adventures and challenges that lie ahead, and when you return home in the evening, anticipating your time with your family and leisure pursuits.”

Two of Baylor’s recent graduates already are pursuing their calling. Learn more in the profile videos below about Aishwarya Venkataraman and Brittany Barreto.