This post comes as something of a surprise. I would have thought I’d be talking directly about New Orleans.
I arrived this past Saturday to a scene I’ve never really been a part of. No, no, I’m not talking about the music or bar scene. I’m acquainted well enough with both, though truth be told I rarely participate in either. (I’m a “goodie goodie,” remember? Drinking has never really been my thing.) No, I’m talking about the medical academic scene, or, more specifically, the ivy league medical academic scene.
My friend is an internal medicine resident at Tulane, one of the most highly regarded and selective research universities in the nation. Yes, she’s smart stuff, and I’m proud to know her, but I don’t usually think of her as such. To me, she’s just April, my best friend from forever, and that’s enough. All the rest is just fluff.
So at dinner the other night I was surprised as I was talking to another internal medicine resident, a friend of April’s, when he told me about his experience as an undergraduate at Yale. He’d been top of his class all his life — was used to being the “smart guy,” so he said — but at Yale he was suddenly surrounded by people who were “just as smart as me!” His demeanor wasn’t as cocky as his words sounded, but his comment immediately launched me to the meditative — though the conversation went on (to literature references, so as to include me, as though because I was an English major I must have read every classic there ever was), my mind was far away.
Certainly there is something to be said for the competitive nature of medicine. It takes a lot of brains to become a physician, and not just anyone can, or should, go into medicine. I for one would have struggled to get through medical school. (Science, like drinking, was never my thing.) But . . . I guess my question is: What is the value of being the “best of the best”?
While living in Hong Kong I read Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua. In the book, Chua, a Harvard Law School graduate, talks about the time she tied for first place in a high school science competition. While many parents would have been thrilled, Chua’s Chinese-emigrant parents reacted quite differently. “Don’t ever embarrass me like that again,” her father said. Ouch!
And as I sat there listening, that scene came to mind, and I wondered if I shouldn’t feel intimidated by the people around me; or, rather if they might expect me to be. I am no Harvard or Yale graduate. I wouldn’t have made it into an ivy league school even if I’d applied. These guys were Einsteins. So what did that say about me?
Funny thing was: I wasn’t intimidated. At least, not fully. I may have gone to a no-name school in Tennessee and be self-conscious about many things, but if there is one thing I am proud of, it is my intellect. I’ve always loved ideas, and connecting them. And I didn’t need an ivy league school to teach me that. Truth be told, there is no school that could teach me to be me.
P.S. Today is my dad’s birthday, and my brother’s was on the 30th. Happy Birthday!