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Be brave and have no regrets

- Wits University

Prof.Helen Rees, internationally renowned expert in HIV prevention, vaccines, and reproductive health urged graduands to be fearless and “do the right thing."

“Be brave, take the right decisions and make a decision that will leave you without regrets,” she said.

Rees was addressing graduands at the Faculty of Health Sciences graduation ceremony on 5 July 2017.

During her early days Rees was a doctor who advocated for the rights of patients and health care workers.

She related her own story of bravery, which took place in 1986 during the Six-Day War in Alexandra informal settlement, north of Johannesburg. Rees was a pregnant medical doctor working at the Alexandra clinic, the township’s only health facility then. 

“When the military surrounded the clinic with Casspirs and heavy weapons, demanding that we hand over our injured patients and the young people who had sought refuge in the clinic, I remember using my then bigger frame. I was pregnant, hidden under a big blood covered apron, to block the entrance of soldiers into the emergency ward of the clinic. I very optimistically waved my NAMDA [National Medical and Dental Association] booklet in the face of a senior army sergeant and I said, ‘My patients have rights, we as health care workers have rights’. But we lost the argument, the youths were taken.”

Rees acknowledges that they had failed in protecting and healing those young people they had hidden, but she learnt from this failure.

“Sometimes in life we fail, and you will also have failures, but some of the biggest lessons we learn from our failures, come from our failures. The brave man is not he who does not fail, but he who conquers that failure.”

She told the Health Sciences graduands that their chosen careers are those that aim to improve people’s health, making the graduands’ skills pivotal in the health sector across the globe.

“South Africa has challenges. South Sudan and our region have challenges. You will be working in a world of global uncertainties. All of your skills are needed to improve the health of people world-wide,” she said.

Rees, an alumna of Cambridge University and Harvard Business School urged the graduands to continue learning and to live by the Wits motto:

“As you move into the next phase of your lives, remember Wits University’s motto, Scientia et Labore, which means knowledge and work.  So continue to grow your knowledge. Learning is never over. Be brave, and choose to do the right thing. Don’t be afraid of failure as your greatest lessons might come from this. Be an optimist and look for opportunity in adversity. Work in teams of fabulous people as it will take you further. Be a giver and do the five-minute favour. Work hard, and be sure to have fun on the way. Use your lives, your laughs, you labour, to create your own wisdom. You have many years ahead of you to do this.”