Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
Wheaton College
Commencement Reunion

Gillian M. Shepherd, M.D. ’70

Posted on May 24, 2010

2010 Commencement Remarks

GILLIAN SHEPHERD ’70: Thank you all, President Crutcher, graduates of the Class of 2010, and all the honored guests.

This is truly an honor. I am most appreciative of it. I come from a family of 14 physicians, so it was expected that I would probably follow suit into medicine at some point. My parents had made a half-hearted effort to expose me to other careers, but we lived in Rochester, Minnesota, home of the Mayo Clinic, so these exposures were fairly limited.

I ended upcoming to Wheaton as a transfer student and immersed myself in the science center for the next two years with occasional classes on Russian literature and art to break up the sciences of it. However, I had had big gaps in my previous academic career. I had managed to graduate not only high school, but also junior college, with only one course in biology and almost no math. So, calculus and physics were a definite struggle here.

I always said that I owe my subsequent career to Wheaton because I graduated in the Class of 1970, the year of the Cambodian invasion. Kent State happened two weeks before we graduated. The campus was in an uproar of demonstrations. The president decided that nobody had to take finals. Grades would be pass/fail. I was squeaking by in calculus and “Physics for Poets,” so I happily took my passes. Of course, I later spun this in a most positive light to medical school admission committees. I also discovered that unless you are in radiology, nobody needs calculus or physics in medicine.

One other pullout of the demonstrations that year was that the pomp and circumstance of graduation was non-existent. We basically didn't have a graduation, so I told my family in Minnesota not to come. So it is a real delight that here today for my second graduation, I do have my family. So, thank you.

Despite my efforts, I was a late academic bloomer and my marks were not strong enough to apply to medical school initially from Wheaton, so I ended up going into a Ph.D. program. My goal then, and my application, was to create the male birth control pill. I somewhat deviated from that route, but I have found the perfect career.

First of all, I am independent. I can support myself. I have three children. It's a very flexible career. Second, I am always a student. A friend once told me that she knew everything that there was to know in her profession. I found that to be so profoundly depressing.

In my case, I am always learning. In my area of immunology we probably know 10 percent of what we are going to know within the next decade or two. It is still a huge gray box of unknown information. By your Wheaton education you know that the way to learn is always by asking questions and by thinking creatively.

And probably last and most important, I am constantly stimulated. You will spend a third of your careers or a third of your waking time in your daily life working at a job. You have to be excited to get up in the morning. This will, hopefully, lead to a positive spillover for the other third of your life when you're not sleeping.

So, I hope that you can be as lucky as I have been to find a career that excites you every single day. My best, and good luck to all of you.

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