I remember it like it was yesterday. I had just gotten my first exam back from Chem 5, and I was terrified to look at the grade. I knew I had not done well; following my high school habit, I had only prepared for the exam the day before. That turned out to be a huge mistake. I looked at my score in dismay: 46%. I tried to keep myself composed but inside, I was dying. It was the lowest grade that I had ever received in my life, and I felt like my dreams of being a doctor were over—even though it was the first exam of my Harvard career. What would I tell my parents? How could I continue on as a Harvard student with this blemish on my “permanent” record? I went to visit a friend who also took the course and broke down in front of him, absolutely riddled with fear about the future. My friend, who happened to be a Christian, looked me in the eye and spoke the words that still impact me today: “Don’t despair. God’s got it under control.”
Before that day I felt I was ultimately in control of my academic future. My immediate thoughts after receiving the grade focused on me: How was I going to get out of this? What impact was this going to have on my life? Will I be a doctor? The idea that all this might have to do with something bigger than me never entered the picture until my friend reminded me that God was in control of the situation. As a Christian, I was called to love the Lord with all my heart, my soul, my mind and my strength (Mark 12:30), which meant that everything about me needed to be engaged by Him. It was then that it hit me as hard as the 46% did— I could not ultimately control everything.
But how could I bring a love of God into my experience as a pre-med? The answer lay in understanding that God is omnipresent; He is everything and in everything that we do. And so, we must glorify God in whatever we do (1 Corinthians 10:31); my studies could in no way be exempt. In thinking this way, I integrated God into my academic life by realizing that academics were not everything. They were not a measure of my whole self and my eternal soul—they could not define my value.
God gave me the passion to become a doctor, but I needed to honor Him by how I studied—with Him in mind. An unexpected result of integrating God into all of my life was that I began to try to truly love all my neighbors as myself (Mark 12:31). That had to include the guy sitting next to me in my chemistry class whom I was directly competing against.
At first, it was difficult to love my pre-med classmates. During my pre-med experience, I had felt either competitive or isolated, causing me to have animosity or apathy toward others. Yet as I started to pursue a deeper relationship with God through my studies, I overcame my isolationist mentality and acknowledged my classmates’ existence. With God’s help, I began to treat them with His compassionate love. I also began to set aside time for them—time that could have been used to complete problem sets and study for exams. Changing my attitude toward my classmates and the way I spent my time was not easy. It involved sacrificing both the isolation I had built up and time that might have been spent in pursuit of higher grades. But showing compassion to other pre-meds became more important to me than academic success because I felt that compassion was better for healing past wounds than mere scholastics.
In order to love other pre-meds completely, I had to enter into their pain. Through this, I learned that they struggled with the same things that I did, such as uncertainty about the future and constant self-doubt. I saw their brokenness along with mine and could finally identify with them. I began to understand that they, like I, were created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), which meant that they were worthy of the same love and respect as me. I no longer had to be overly competitive or indifferent towards their presence. Instead, I saw other pre-meds in the way that God saw them: people with value and purpose.
Years after that fateful chemistry exam, I am preparing to graduate and enter medical school in the fall. I am blessed to say that I have no regrets about how my experience changed after the talk I had with my friend. As I gave my pre-med experience to God, He gave me His heart and ultimately His love for others. Knowing that I was at peace with my colleagues most of the time also helped me to do my best on my assignments. My desire was to honestly learn, instead of “learning” to compete with others. In turn, I was freed from anxiety.
I may not have straight ‘A’s or graduate summa cum laude, but thankfully those things did not prevent me from pursuing my passion for healing in medical school. People do not need to become obsessively competitive and self-absorbed in order to become doctors. Instead, I would argue that practicing self-sacrifice is the best preparation to care for future patients. With these insights comes a sense of peace. I know that I have done the best I can to honor God through loving others, and that, more than anything, is the truly important test.
Chiduzie C. Madubata ’06 is a Biology concentrator in Mather House. His first name means “God guide me” in Ibo. His last name means “Everyone is welcome.”