Below is a reflection I gave at the start of the Graduation Ceremony for the Vets on 30 June. It was a great celebration and good to see some Priestfield friends getting their degree.
It’s a privilege to share with you in this graduation ceremony. I congratulate you all on your achievements under the pressures you have faced and wish you well for the future in these difficult days.
There is a certain irony in having been asked to offer this reflection to vets because shortly after the invitation was accepted we discovered that one of our dogs, Meg (a collie, needless to say) will need to be put to sleep in the near future (I’m glad I wasn’t invited to the Medics!) – so you will forgive me if I follow a long tradition and burst into tears at any point. That tradition of tears was shared by hard-bitten farmers in the Foot and Mouth disease outbreak of 2001, by those watching Animal Hospital as Rolf Harris and an old man cried on each other’s shoulders over an ailing German Shepherd and Planet Earth Live viewers were on tenterhooks recently as three baby elephants survived being swept away in a swollen river.
Pets, farm animals, wild animals – in our culture we are touched by all of them.
In the Hebrew Bible there is a story in which in turn God brings the animals to Adam and he gives each of them a name. The main point of the story is that no animal companion is fully adequate for a human, but the story also points out to us the strength of the link between human beings and the animal kingdom.
On this day when you start your life beyond vet school, remember the privilege you have as human beings caring for animals. Remember that when you touch and care for pet or farm or wild animals, you also touch an intrinsic part of our humanity. You mediate our care for you have the skill to do it.
But you must also mediate for the animals. Where, as human beings, we fall short of the care that is required of us, where we consciously or unconsciously abuse the animal kingdom you must challenge us about our willingness to abuse, for in diminishing the animals, we diminish ourselves.
So amid the muck and blood, the fleas and ticks, remember that you have a calling to care, and that in living out this calling you are reflecting a high purpose among the creatures inhabiting this planet.