Graduates get one more lesson at GCC commencement: embrace failure to keep learning
As he waxed a bit of nostalgia while standing before Genesee Community College’s Class of 2022 Saturday, Daniel Ireland recalled a moment when he walked the very same steps to accept his diploma.
“Thirty years ago I stood where you were, crossing the stage here at GCC with what seemed like a lifetime ahead of me,” said Ireland, president of Rochester Regional Health and keynote speaker. “I was a young nurse, and I had just completed a challenging journey through the rigorous program. I was not an A+ student, but I was dedicated, and through perseverance I proudly graduated.”
Ireland delivered the commencement speech for GCC’s 54th graduation ceremony at the Batavia campus. His challenging journey may have been filled with obstacles, he said, but he worked to overcome them. Ireland not only went on to become a nurse, but head of the Rochester-based healthcare company and in his third decade at United Memorial Medical Center. In 2010 he was promoted to vice president of operations and chief operating officer, in which roles he modernized UMMC’s facilities and oversaw various revitalization projects, including the surgical, front entry and maternity unit areas.
His promotion to president followed in 2013. Ireland was instrumental in leading UMMC through the merger with Rochester Regional Health three years later, and two years ago he rose to the task of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
During those two years, GCC postponed the annual commencement and celebrated an in-person event this year. Classes of 2020 and 2021 joined fellow graduates of this year to take that walk of honor across the stage.
Ireland talked about the choices he made along his career path — from earning a bachelor’s in nursing at Brockport State College after GCC to working as an emergency room floor nurse and being promoted to a leadership position.
It was unforeseen tragedy that shaped his moral code and tested his ability to respond in the face of emergencies, he said.
“One of the first things I learned is that unexpected things happen, and you need to roll with it,” he said. “One early August morning, at about 4 a.m., I received a phone call that no emergency room nurse manager wants to receive. A train had derailed here in Batavia. More than 100 passengers were involved. In healthcare, you plan for these things, but you never fully expect them.”
Some 120 accident victims were transported to the hospital, which had a capacity for about 25 people. Ireland recalled the fear amongst his staff after the train accident. Due to the perseverance of Ireland and his team, there were no fatalities that day.
“I started out as an orderly, who wanted to get through their Associate’s program and practice nursing,” Ireland said. “I became a leader, with a Master’s Degree, running an emergency room, and leading people through disasters.”
Ireland left the audience with a few key takeaways from his educational and career experiences. He spoke about how fatherhood furthered his mental wellbeing, and how, in that era, he learned how to find safety in failure and lead a life of humility.
He recounted a time in his life when a career opportunity arose outside of the healthcare field, and he was not selected. He reassured the graduates that failure is integral to success.
“When I did not get the job, I was crushed. I had not embraced yet that it is okay to fail,” Ireland said. “But, it was simply fate showing me a path I had not imagined. What I did not know was that a different path lay ahead.”
As Ireland concluded his remarks, three graduating classes prepared to receive what they had worked so hard for: a diploma to recognize their new graduate status. After a two-year hiatus, this ceremony seemed to be — in and of itself — a new chapter for GCC and its students.
Top photo: Daniel Ireland of Rochester Regional Health gives the keynote address to the Class of 2022 at Genesee Community College Saturday in Batavia. Classmates celebrate their accomplishments and family and friends capture the moment. Photos courtesy of GCC.