Keynote speaker encourages finding your why, telling your own story

Bertice Berry, PhD, reminded attendees during AVMA Convention 2022 this summer in Philadelphia to clean their filters. No, not in their dryers, but instead, in their minds. The filters are there so you can take a look back at your experiences, learn from them, and avoid repeating your mistakes.

“If you do not clean your filter, it becomes the window through which you see the world. We all get things caught in our filter,” she said. “But if you don’t constantly clean that filter,” it can color your perspective in potentially negative ways.

Bertice Berry, PhD
Bertice Berry, PhD, gives the keynote speech at AVMA Convention 2022 in Philadelphia. She makes her own dresses, and the one she wore for her speech was made of fabric that had her dogs’ photos printed on it.

The best way to clear that filter is to take a deep breath, let it out, and remember a time when somebody came back to tell you, “Thank you.”

“In that moment, usually we suffer from what I call, ‘That’s just my job,’” she said. That’s when people dismiss the good they’ve done in this world or how they have helped, as though it doesn’t really matter. But it matters more than people think, and everyone possesses the ability to change somebody else’s life.

“It doesn’t matter what else is going on. It doesn’t matter whether or not people can see what’s going on inside. It doesn’t matter how I show up. I still possess the ability to change somebody’s life,” Dr. Berry said. “You have to remember these moments of gratitude. Because two seconds later, somebody’s gonna say, ‘Why do you charge me so much?’”

She gave the keynote presentation, “Owning Your Narrative,” which was sponsored by Hill’s Pet Nutrition. Dr. Berry is a sociologist, lecturer, and storyteller.

She explained that owning your narrative means forming your own voice, your authenticity, your stories. Doing so is important because if you don’t say it, you can’t heal.

“Sometimes we think that not saying something is the thing that gives you the ability to keep moving, but actually, we have to say out loud what’s going on and what’s wrong so that we can get to where we need to get to,” Dr. Berry said. “Owning your narrative is enabling you to be who you are, not who others say you are.”

She continued, “You have to share your narrative, and you have to be a story keeper for yourself. Sharing stories is really something we’re wired for, but we’ve gotten so far away from it.”

Later that day, she held a workshop on the tools and techniques for sharing your story.

Dr. Berry also emphasized how important veterinarians are to helping society, because when an animal is healed, so is its owner. And though many days can be difficult, it’s just as important to remember to remember how resilient people can be.

She recited one of her favorite poems by Langston Hughes, “Still Here.”

“I been scarred and battered. My hopes the wind done scattered. Snow that freezes me, sun has baked me. Looks like between them they done. Tried to make me stop laughing, stop loving, stop living—but I don’t care. I’m still here,” she quoted.

“It’s up to you to figure out what to do with the fact that you are still here. It’s up to you to figure out what to do with the fact that in the sea of those who quit and couldn’t hold on, you were here to help bring out the best of humanity. To show us how to love better and be better at doing it. You are here for that. But as I said earlier, you need each other’s stories, because iron sharpens iron.”

View an online photo gallery of AVMA Convention 2022 in Philadelphia at Philly photos.

A version of this article appears in the October 2022 print issue of JAVMA.