Passionate Pursuit: A Grandmother at Yale Medical School
If you are a regular watcher of the Oprah Winfrey show, they you’ve already heard of Karen Morris, the history-making African American med student who, on the 28th of this month, will become the first grandmother ever to graduate from Yale Medical School.
If you aren’t familiar with the story of this soon-to-be doctor then this rough timeline, based on a 2003 article in Yale Medicine, will fill you in on some of the details of her inspiring road to the M.D. degree:
- At age 11 Morris decides to become a doctor “so she could take car of her ailing grandmother, who died while Morris was still a teenager.”
- At age 16 Morris gives birth to her first child, feeling that she has disappointed her family and foiled her efforts to go to college and become a doctor.
- In 1980 Morris completes high school and goes on to marry the man who had been her boyfriend since fifth grade.
- Shortly after marrying, she learns that her husband opposes her plans to go to college.
- Morris completes cosmetology school and runs a beauty shop out of her home.
- At age 29 Morris, now a mother of five, enrolls at Harrisburg Area Community College.
- She separates from her husband when he attempts to interfere with her studies. They eventually divorce.
- In 1996 Morris graduates summa cum laude with an associate’s degree in nursing.
- She enrolls at York College “with her children’s encouragement,” to work toward her bachelor’s in nursing.
- While working at a men’s prison, studying toward her bachelor’s degree, and overseeing her children’s care and education, she begins taking medical school prerequisite courses.
- In July of 2001 Morris attends a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation-sponsored summer program for minority students interested in medical school, where she excells.
- In the first half of 2002 Morris is admitted to three of the four medical schools that she applies to, choosing Yale over Penn State and Pitt.
- In June of 2002 she graduates magna cum laude from York College, with a bachelor’s degree in nursing.
- In the winter of 2003 she is profiled in Yale Medicine.
- In April of 2007 Morris marries William Priester, a police sergeant from Windsor, Connecticut.
- On May 4, 2007 Morris attends an mandatory class meeting of graduating Yale med students where she learns that the Oprah Winfrey Show has singled her out for recognition on its “Cheers to You” episode.
- The following Tuesday Morris tapes the “Cheers to You” episode, during which she is joined on stage by her five children, her four grandchildren, and her husband.
- During the taping of that episode she learns that the Ambi Skincare company has named Morris the first recipient of its Ambi Scholarship in Science and Medicine, and will be paying off all of her educational debt, a total of roughly 160,000 dollars.
Commencement will mark the beginning of the next chapter in Karen Morris’s career. Central Pennsylvania’s Patriot News reports that, “She will spend a year in internship at Lehigh Valley Hospital, near Allentown. Then she’ll move to Boston to study anesthesiology at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a Harvard-affiliated program. ”
There’s a powerful theme that runs through Karen Morris’s story, one that explains her relentless pursuit of a medical career, from associate’s degree in nursing to B.S.N. to M.D. And it is the same theme that at least partially explains Ronald Mallet’s 40-year quest for the secrets of time travel. These extraordinary figures are each driven by their passion for a specific subject or scientific question. In each case, neither could truly settle into or even envision a life in which the pursuit of their intellectual passion did not play central role. Each was willing to do whatever was required to make this so, even including the financial and personal sacrifices necessary to achieve multiple academic degrees.
Each day as I drive through the streets of Oakland, California, I see groups of young Black men, many of them high school aged, standing outside of convenient stores and on street corners during school hours, cracking jokes and talking trash and sometimes participating in the local underground economy. I see these young kids and I think of Ronald Mallet who despite his succes never particularly liked school, and I think Karen Morris who made some of the same youthful errors in judgement that many young women make in high school, and with the same results (teen motherhood). If each of these exceptional minds had not fallen in love with a particular field of study early in their lives (each of them had identified his/her life’s path by the age of 11), would they have spent their teen years standing on the corner, skipping school? I wonder what passion might draw some of today’s young brothers away from the storefronts and street corners, and back into the classrooms. What passion — for art or mathematics or aviation or automobile design or space travel or the law or something entirely unique – would invest education with new meaning, so that they would finally see it as a means to an end rather than a [dead] end in itself?
Posted by Ajuan Mance