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By uscbknpt

The Power of Risk Taking

Alan Jette portrait

Alan M. Jette, a luminary in physical therapy, takes center stage at Division Commencement ceremony.


EVERY SO OFTEN, A FEW CAREFULLY CURATED WORDS of wisdom have the power to alter the trajectory of one’s life. Such was the case for this year’s featured commencement speaker for the USC Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy — Alan Jette. “The best advice I’ve ever received is when one of my mentors encouraged me to earn my PhD,” Jette explains.

Growing up in a rural farming community in Western New York, Jette (who insists on being called Alan) never dreamed of pursuing a career in academia. “No one in my family ever went beyond high school,” he explains. “A career in academia was never seen as a possibility in my family – and there were no role models. I wasn’t a particularly good student in grade school or high school. In fact, I found classes boring and was much more interested in extracurricular activities, such as being the yearbook editor, newspaper editor, theater director and a member of the photography club.” 

That changed when Jette got into physical therapy school. Discovering a genuine interest and inherent skill in the field, he surprised himself — and others — by graduating at the top of his class. Still, he chuckles, “People would not have said, ‘This guy’s going to go into an academic career.’”

Jette, the first physical therapist ever elected to the National Academy of Medicine, not only ventured into academia — his groundbreaking contributions to the world of physical therapy earned him numerous prestigious awards, solidifying his reputation as an internationally recognized expert in the measurement of function and disability. 

In 2005, he received the Catherine Worthingham Fellow, the highest honor bestowed by the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). In 2010, he earned the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Award for Distinguished Public Service, recognizing his pioneering contributions to disability rehabilitation research and his dedicated service to people with disabilities. In 2011, he was named a Fellow of the Gerontological Society of America, the nation’s largest interdisciplinary organization devoted to the field of aging. And the list goes on. 

But one of the honors closest to Jette’s heart is the invitation extended to him by the APTA to deliver the Mary McMillan Lecture in 2012, which afforded him a platform to share his insights with the physical therapy field —  thoughts that were subsequently published in Physical Therapy for all to see. 


Take Risks, Follow Your Desires


Now retired from research and having served as the editor in chief of Physical Therapy after an eight-year term, Jette is eagerly anticipating his next endeavor: speaking to the USC Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy Class of 2024 this May. “I have tremendous respect for the faculty and the program at USC. It’s one of the top programs in the country and has been for many years,” he says. “It’s a wonderful honor to be asked to speak to the graduates. I graduated as a physical therapist 50 years ago, so it’ll be fun to see if I have something to say that might be of interest.”

As Jette prepares to take the stage to impart some words of wisdom of his own to USC’s next generation of physical therapists, he recognizes that his illustrious career was set in motion by the invaluable guidance received from his mentor and — considering he doesn’t even remember if there was a speaker at his commencement — hopes to say something memorable. 

“I plan to talk about my experience early in my career and some of the decisions I made that had an impact on me,” he explains. “I’ll share examples from when I made decisions that — at the time — were thought to be kind of crazy but turned out to be really smart decisions. I went in some directions that were very atypical, and I want to share with the graduates to not be afraid, to take risks, to follow your desires and not to worry about what other people tell you to do.”

In addition to encouraging graduates to fearlessly pursue their passions, Jette underscores the importance of early mentorship and staying ahead of evolving evidence. He says the secret to being a successful movement specialist lies in keeping your skills sharp and continuing to advance your knowledge base. “To be a good clinician long-term, you can’t be doing what you learned in DPT school,” he stresses. “You need to continue to learn throughout your career, because the evidence keeps developing and building in our field. You can’t get stale.”

The USC Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy satellite commencement ceremony takes place Friday, May 10 at 3 p.m. in the Bovard Auditorium (located on the University Park Campus.) For more information, visit the Commencement website here.