Letter to Johanny: All the Places You Will Go!

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May 29, 2016

Dear Johanny,

You did it!  You graduated from Georgetown University with high honors, after four years of hard work.  You were in the same stadium with the Crown Prince of Jordan and so many others whom a shallow society would deem more important than you.  It was not just the four years at Georgetown, but so many years since childhood that cuminated in this moment of joy for you and your family.  It started during those younger years when you lived in the tiny apartment with your mother and sister in Massachusetts, leaving on a school bus in the early morning and coming straight home every afternoon just to study.  You said it was not such a fun or conventional childhood because you did not have friends outside the classroom, but it was full of love and protection from your mother and sister.  You fought the system at your high school where an advisor told you how “Latino” students like you wouldn’t go to college, and an English teacher in an AP class told you since you were Hispanic, you wouldn’t understand her explanations of the literature.  You proved them all wrong, as you graduated valedictorian from your high school and turned down Wellesley, Hillary Clinton’s alma mater, and other schools to go to Georgetown. 

I am so proud to have known you and to have served for a brief time as your mentor when you “shadowed” me in the office and hospital.  I am proud that you have confirmed the faith I have in so many disadvantaged students like you, that if your heart and mind are together, you will achieve your goals and shock those who did not believe in you.

It still puzzles me every time someone tells me how unfair it is that her child deserved to get into an elite university more than someone whose test scores were worse, whose GPA was worse, whose only qualification was “to be poor” or “to be a minority,” and that such a student took her child’s place.  It is not hard to understand, but it’s challenging to  have to explain, repeatedly, to these loving parents that, given the impoverished environment and lack of support from elite parents who can find tutors for every subject that their child takes, the poor students indeed did extraordinarly well on their own to get to the same destination.  Elite students, without taking multiple college admission test training classes, or having multiple tutors, or attending high schools where teachers have the same qualifications as college professors, might not have achieved the same grades and possess the same grit as the poor children who work alone to achieve the same tasks.  Until all students, rich and poor, are at the same starting line, the comparison about grades, standardized test scores and activities will not be just.

You have, Johanny, matured beyond your age.  To graduate on Saturday, then rushing to the airport to attend your mother’s graduation from nursing school the following day, was an admirable task.  You helped your mom understand her homework while working on your own college degree; you even helped pay for her tuition with the meager money you earned from your two jobs while taking difficult premedical classes at a university like Georgetown.  How many college students can do what you did?  I can name countless students who cannot.

It will be an honor for any medical school to have an individual like you among their students, as it will be an honor for any patient to have you as her physician in the future.  Your perserverance, intelligence and compassion will carry you well through all the ups and downs you will encounter on the roads ahead.  

We are living in a turbulent time.  We are witness to the chaos everywhere in the world including here in the United States.  You are lining up with the youths of your generation behind what you believe is justice and equality.  Like me, you are puzzled at politicians who are trying to separate our world into different fragments of religions, colors, classes.  It’s a confusing time when people have to do much soul searching to understand who they are and what they believe in and try to cling to their principles.  You, unlike many of us who are much older but not wiser, understand how you have to follow your inner moral compass, and not to believe blindly what someone wants you to believe.  You believe in a world, intact like a finished puzzle, beautiful and whole, not a world where every piece in the puzzle is scattered and stands alone in chaos.

I wish, for your true happiness, that you will never change, no matter how much your life changes.  I hope you will remain grateful, simple, humble, easily pleased, nonmaterialistic.  I hope you will always realize money brings convenience, not happiness, that happiness is not something concrete to chase after.  I hope you continue to live spontaneously and fully, to embrace life’s every moment with the enthusiasm of youth, and not to waste time.   

Most of all, with the challenging road ahead to medical school, I hope you learn to have self compassion.  I hope you push yourself to do your best in everything you do, but recognize how all of us should be allowed to be imperfect.  Have as much compassion toward yourself as you offer the same to your patients. Recognize how each of us is beautiful in our own way, unique on our own path.  Osho, a controversial spiritual leader in the 1980s, summed up very well in this quote: 

“The moment you start clinging to things, you have missed the target—you have missed.  Because things are not the target, you, your innermost being, is the target—not a beautiful house, but a beautiful you; not much money, but a rich you; not many things, but an open being, available to millions of things.” 

Bon voyage, Johanny, to a future full of hope!


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