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Ian Thompson ’00

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Ian Thompson (Class of 2000) is a Waterford alumnus and a former scholarship recipient. He spoke at the 2013 Scholarship Dinner about his experience as a Waterford student.

Fifteen years ago, I arrived at the Waterford campus from Brooklyn, New York on scholarship. My mother was a nursing aid, and my father drove taxis for a living. For the most part, we lived a modest working class life.

At the time, I had an aunt and uncle who worked in Utah. They thought that Sandy, of all places, would be a good environment for me to attend school. They spoke with Dr. and Mrs. Heuston about the possibility of enrolling their nephew at Waterford with financial aid, and I came to visit. I met the Heustons, and through an unusually generous amount of good will, and significant financial sacrifice on the part of my future teachers, funds were collected to provide for my tuition.

I spent three years at Waterford, graduated, and went on to Harvard where I majored in Economics. I knew the education that I received at Waterford was first rate, but when I arrived at Harvard, it was immediately apparent that the education I had received was in fact world class. I had read as much or more than my peers in the Western canon. I was more broadly informed of events in the grand sweep of history. And unlike many of my peers, I had been exposed to a number of traditions in the artistic and creative disciplines. In short, I arrived at Harvard with a leg-up. And it did not come from some particular talent or innate God-given ability. No, It came from the Waterford experience: the sincerity of the learning environment and the vitality of its teaching, which I fondly remember.

I am currently a fourth year student at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine. I interrupted my studies to receive a masters degree in epidemiology and biostatistics, and I am currently finishing up a two year research fellowship in immunology. I would love to make you proud of my accomplishments. I would love to tell you that by reason of skill, intelligence, and character, I have already achieved something of great value—a cure to cancer maybe, a new surgical technique, or a drug discovery that has transformed the landscape of medicine. But I think it is far more interesting to talk specifically about Waterford.

It would be a mistake to think that Waterford changed me solely because of the content of its teaching. When I arrived, I could already solve a quadratic equation. I knew how to put together words into a coherent sentence. What I didn’t know is that a person could live — indeed thrive — with a series of seemingly irreconcilable paradoxes. A person could be ethnically isolated and yet feel fully and completely embraced. A person could carry violins and play lacrosse, and be equally proficient at both. I entered this school under the veil of need, and yet this same school gifted me with a second sight that informs my life work.

What Waterford gave me was an expansion of the imagination to encompass these seeming paradoxes. It offered me an idea, perhaps even an ideal. It was a most intimate if not original insight: That an individual could be one thing but also many things. A person could be a physician but also the CEO of a non-profit with far-reaching impact. A person could have lifelong interests in fields as different as the east is from the west. But if those interests were pursued with passion and purpose, the center would hold and the community would be enriched. The fruit of that experience is that it has allowed my mind to reach beyond the obvious as I deliberately create my career path.

I have spent the past 7 years in the analytical and biological sciences. During that period, I met and married a beautiful woman with roots in West Africa and an amazing heart for work abroad. Together we have both decided that we want to spend a significant part of our lives working and serving across the Atlantic Ocean. As I interview for residency, I have had the opportunity to articulate these desires. Frequently, the question is posed. “How do you intend to survive the rigors, strains, and demands of the surgical life with your interest in the developing world intact?” Plainly speaking, they think it is a stretch — to pursue academic medicine and a research career while also working in marginalized communities of the developing world.

But my answer is simple. Frankly, I do not know. How does one take the years of medical training and its financial burdens and somehow cultivate an empathy that seeks to engage communities of need? At the moment, the best I can offer is that I am still discovering my answer. But the question, this perplexing challenge, is of utmost importance. And the fact that I seek to live within reach of its ideals is a testament to Waterford. Finding ways to create positive and lasting social impact takes effort even with money. And I can’t think of a relationship more worthy of investment than that which exists between a teacher and a student.

In July 1997 I was given an unbelievable gift, in fact an astonishing one, which reoriented the limitations of circumstance into a world full of future possibility. That gift mattered. I am just one example of how that partnership between heart and mind is guaranteed to have effects that are far-reaching in their impact.