Keynote Speaker Karen Dale Encourages Graduates to Live with Purpose 


Bachelor of Nursing alumna Karen Dale was the keynote speaker at the College’s Class of 2022 Degree Celebration on May 22. She is the market president and chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer for AmeriHealth Caritas’ Medicaid managed care organization (MCO) in Washington, D.C. Dale was originally scheduled to address graduates at the May 2020 Degree Celebration, which was canceled due to COVID-19, but returned this year to encourage graduates to find their individual motivations. 

Read her speech below or watch it on the University’s YouTube channel. Dale’s remarks run 34:00-46:10. (Note, video closed captions are being edited to ensure correctness.) 

Karen Dale, Degree Celebration Speaker

Greetings, College of Health and Human Services Degree graduates. Indeed this is a momentous occasion, and I am honored to be here.  

Today, I plan to speak with you about the importance of living with purpose.  

I read a quote some time ago that said, “Positive psychology takes you through the countryside of pleasure and gratification, up into the high country of strength and virtue, and finally to the peaks of lasting fulfillment, meaning, and purpose.” 

I imagine in the weeks leading up to today, you have been contemplating your future. What will your life and career look like? As life would have it though, our best plans can be upended by something unpredictable.  

VUCA, an acronym introduced by the U.S. Army War College that describes an unpredictable environment, stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. This is how the U.S. Army War College described what the world felt when the Cold War ended in 1991. Over time the business world adopted this framework into its management practices. As we have experienced so much uncertainty in the past two+ years, it seems prudent to make managing VUCA also a life practice. An important strategy to managing VUCA is to respond to complexity with clarity.  

One aspect of clarity that is critically important to maintain, no matter what, is your own clarity of purpose. 

Dr. Martin Seligman introduced the five elements or components of his PERMA model which are distinct yet mutually reinforcing, that when consistently practiced result in people being more likely to thrive, be resilient, and have greater life and job satisfaction. The five elements are: 

  • Positive emotion 

  • Engagement 

  • Relationships 

  • Meaning 

  • Accomplishments 

Let’s go deeper on one of the elements – Meaning. 

Seligman described meaning as “belonging and/or serving something greater than ourselves.” Having a purpose in life helps individuals focus on what is really important in the face of significant challenge or adversity aka VUCA: volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. 

Meaning gets us to that higher peak that research tells us supports good health, a longer life, well-being, and resilience. 

A few steps to help you identify your meaningful purpose (which may certainly evolve over time). 

Identify your unique gifts, and how you may use them to make a difference. For example in health care, the ecosystem is a web of interrelated components designed to create a health producing delivery system. Creating change and positive outcomes requires strong leadership competencies, systems-thinking, and tenacity. In addition, I have found three traits that have consistently supported success in my career:  

  1. Engagement – leaders by my definition never stand alone. So they must have the ability to engage a diverse group to co-author a vision, align around the journey to achieving it, and cohesively do the hard work on the steps to bringing the vision to fruition. To be clear, you are all leaders. A leader is not defined by their title, rather by their actions. You have had many life experiences, including your time at George Mason that have prepared you to be a highly engaging leader. 

  1. Courage – I can’t say enough about this one – to be humble and admit your mistakes, decide to be an upstander and not a bystander to wrongs, and because your efforts can always make things better tomorrow than they were today, you must challenge the status quo when it no longer works for good. 

  1. Inclusive – as a leader be curious, adaptable, self-aware, fair, and collaborative. Constantly evaluate the spaces where you live, work and play and ask who or what perspective is missing and work to include it. 

After you have identified your gifts, next work to discover your passion. The Britannica definition of passion is “a strong feeling of enthusiasm or excitement for something or about doing something.” Ask yourself “why” you chose what you did at least three times to hone in on what is truly your passion. “Doing good or helping people” is not specific enough to get out of bed with a road map for the day tied to your passion.  

My purpose statement is to be a force to create an equitable health care delivery system for historically marginalized populations. I get out of bed working toward this every day and created a focus on changing the model of how we engage with our members – including their voice and perspective as we design interventions, focus in on food as medicine (meal delivery to address food insecurity and medically tailored meals to help address chronic disease), taking services to members in their homes, implementing a medical-legal partnership. Most people don’t say they love their insurance company. It warms my heart when our members, who I am happy to give my cell phone number, send a text that says, "I love you and how you fight for us." 

If you are feeling particularly bold, you may want to utilize guidance from Simon Sinek’s book The Infinite Game. He advises that we should aim to create and or be a part of a “Just Cause,” a part of a specific vision of a future state that does not yet exist. A Just Cause must be:  

  • For Something (affirmative and optimistic) 

  • Inclusive (open to all those who would like to contribute) 

  • Service Oriented (for the primary benefit of others) 

  • Resilient (able to endure political, technological, and cultural change) 

  • Idealistic (big, bold, and ultimately unachievable) 

For example, your purpose could be in support of what has been defined in Healthy People 2030 as Health equity, which is "the attainment of the highest level of health for all people.” And choose to get out of bed every day working towards the drivers of change outlined in Healthy People 2030, such as “ensuring that every part of our health care system is valuing everyone equally with focused and ongoing societal efforts to address avoidable inequalities, historical and contemporary injustices, and the elimination of health and health care disparities.” 

The book Infinite Game provides a relevant business example in the chapter “the courage to lead” where an organization made a courageous decision to be aligned with their stated Just Cause. 

CVS had a sign in its corporate headquarters lobby that said “Helping people on their path to better health.” However, the fact that they profited from selling cigarettes in their stores did not match their Just Cause. In February 2014, they boldly announced that they would stop selling tobacco products in their nearly 3,000 stores. This decision cost them $2 billion a year, and they made it without anyone putting pressure on them to do so.

Was this a bad decision? In fact, despite the criticism from some using the lens of a finite mindset, it turned out to be a good decision aligned with their purpose. Cigarette sales in markets where they had stores overall decreased because their decision caused some smokers to finally kick the habit, and partners who previously didn’t allow some of their health-focused products to be in their stores were now willing to join their just cause and focus on “Helping people on their path to better health” by having their products in CVS stores. 

Accountability matters - Whatever path you choose to identify your purpose, be sure to build in accountability. Write out your purpose statement, and share it with at least three people who know you well. These are your accountability partners on your journey.  

On the GMU website, it says, “the end is just the beginning.” This is the beginning, an opportunity for you to leverage your unique gifts to lead and be a catalyst for good with clarity of purpose. I wish you immense success in all your endeavors and hope that you leave this ceremony with Positive emotion in your heart, a focus on intentional Engagement in all your Relationships, a sense of urgency to define your Meaning and purpose, and the courage to lead in ways that help you to achieve yet unimagined Accomplishments.