Friday, May 25, 2012

[uncensored]: Graduating Harvard

As salaam alaikum,

I have a feeling this entry is going to take a long time, so expect it to be in parts.

First of all, all thanks to Allah (swt), I graduated yesterday from Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health with my M.D. and M.P.H! All thanks to Allah (swt) for all of the support of my family, friends and the faculty who have supported me along the way. And thanks to you, my readers, my virtual Muslim family, some of you who have been with me from the beginning, for your support! You have helped me to furnish what has been a spiritual home for me when my own community has been quite lacking or honestly, nonexistent. I love you all!

There is a doctor in the house, but there is definitely a lot more for me to learn, and insha'Allah my residency program will take me there. Heads up, Seattle, this Muslimah is on her way!

This graduation was unlike any other graduation I've had before. I was very reflective of the past, prayerful for the future and mostly grateful for the present as it was. I sat amongst hundreds (thousands?) of graduate students with crimson hoods, listened to an undergraduate senior address the graduating class in Latin, and watched as old-world style ceremony played out before my eyes, including the happy mayor of Middlesex County banging his staff into the ground, calling the "meeting" into session.

It was so surreal to graduate from Harvard.

And this is coming from someone who has never been in awe of the institution. No, seriously. During undergraduate applications, I very purposefully did not apply to Harvard. When they sent their recruitment letter to me at my parents home when I was in high school, I never opened it. I applied and got into Yale and then ended up going to University of Michigan because I got a tuition scholarship there, and that was that.

I felt like even applying to Harvard was putting on heirs. I'm not sure why I was more comfortable applying to Yale, though. I think the real answer that I wasn't willing to admit was that Harvard intimidated me. It intimidated me and, after all, I just wanted to be a physician. I didn't need to go to the a school like that that was so expensive and so out of the league of anything anyone in my family had done just to fulfill a few pre-med requirements.

And so it was. I spent four happy and challenging years at the University of Michigan, and I will forever bleed know, in that not-really-a-sports-fan type of way.

But you come of age watching football by your heritage, hehe.


I ended up applying to Harvard for medical school on a whim. I had a few big-named medical schools that I somehow had the audacity to think I could get into...Johns Hopkins, Columbia...and most of all, University of California, San Francisco, the eminent UCSF. I fell in love with UCSF sometime at the end of my freshman year of college, learning that it was a university dedicated solely to the medical sciences. I formed myself at Michigan to be the type of competitive candidate for a medical school like UCSF. Everything from my grades, my extracurricular activities, my leadership roles...all was for, if God so willed, my admission to UCSF.

Harvard was an afterthought, a curiosity printed in crimson on a little postcard that was mailed to my parents' house one day in late spring, telling me that my MCAT scores were competitive, and that I should consider applying to Harvard.

Oh, really?

By this time, I had the MSAR, a book whose full name I forget but was basically the resource for all of the vital statistics of all accredited medical schools in the country. I had read over and highlighted key points about most of the medical schools that I had heard about, and a few others in choice locations. I hadn't really even considered the possibility of Harvard until I got that postcard. So, I checked them out, and to my surprise, the class of 2009 was 13% African American.

It doesn't seem like a feat, considering the United States is just under 13% black, but considering most medical schools have less than that much of a percentage of a black population and that this large of a black population was not seen in any medical school outside of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities, HBCUs, (and I know this because I checked all of the medical schools in the MSAR), I was surprised. That was totally not what I was expecting from Harvard.

I interviewed at Harvard Medical School like it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, fully expecting not to be accepted, but taking in the opportunity. As friendly medical students helped me navigate the then-confusing quad and medical campuses to get to my off-campus interviews, I was pleased to see a humility that I didn't expect to see at Harvard, which I had previously considered to be home of the legacy and old-rich, a place where I wouldn't feel welcome.

And welcome they made me feel.

But even with all of this, I wouldn't know the half of it. I got into Harvard a little bit before I heard news from UCSF, my dream school. I went to Harvard's then all-underrepresented-minority weekend, Alliance Weekend, with little idea hat to expect.

I didn't know that it would be this weekend that would cement before me the path of my life to come.

So there's so much I can say about what it means to graduate from Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health. And not all of it is positive or glowing or even warranting of any of the flowery language I can occasionally concoct. I didn't get a chance to do my exit interview with the minority office, but I hear that they ask each student the question, if you had a chance to do this all over again, would you have chosen to come to Harvard and why or why not.

By the end of first year, the answer would have been a resounding, of course I would have! Second year, the answer would have been, maybe not, because I feel like half the stuff I learned I taught myself during board studying. Third year, I would have been like, do I even want to go into medicine? Fourth year, it's all about the Benjamins, baby...should have gone where I got more money...

But all joking aside, I know I wouldn't have done anything different, given a chance to do this again, and maybe I would have even made the decision more purposefully. Maybe, given a chance to do this again, I would have experimented more with the different professional hats that I can wear...

I don't know. I just graduated from Harvard finding myself wondering if I could have done even more while I was here, if I could have pushed myself more, if I could have sealed my professional trajectory even more with a stronger resume, with more projects, with research and papers, more work abroad...

And I found myself wanting to recall my years here and all I feel it means to graduate from this place. So I will, over the next few days, piece by piece, examine this all, what it means for me as a Submitter, a Believer, and insha'Allah what I hope for my future, given the words of wisdom of Dr. Dan Berwick, who addressed my class this year.

So much to say.

1 comment:

  1. congratulations!
    Four years of hard work payed off. It's so interesting to think about the past choices that we have made and if they were the best ones for us. Everything happens for a reason. Something tells me that those other schools would have shaped you the way that the Harvard experience will.

    ... hmmm not I feel an entry of my own coming.