Eleanor “Nellie” Semmes ’12 Writes Home

I’m thrilled to be writing home to Waynflete as a first-year medical student! I moved to Durham this past summer to start a joint MD-PhD program at Duke University School of Medicine. I know I never would have made it here without the formative 15 years I had at Waynflete. I was reminded of this last year when Wanyflete surfaced as the main subject of an application essay I wrote for Duke.

The application process for medical school has a grueling reputation for a reason. It was about 18 months from the time I first started studying for the MCAT to when I actually figured out where I would be going to school. At times, the process can be incredibly dehumanizing. It’s easy to feel reduced to a set of numbers and letters encompassed by your GPA, transcript and standardized test scores. Yet, many of the questions schools ask of you and that you’re forced to ask yourself during this journey can be eye-opening. One of the most revealing essays I was asked to write was in response to the following statement:

“Describe the community in which you were nurtured or spent the majority of your early development … what core values did you receive there and how will these translate into the contributions that you hope to make to your community as a medical student and to your career in medicine?”

I was initially dumbfounded. In my mind, it was far too broad an essay prompt with far too little guidance. Did they want me to describe the neighborhood I grew up in? Was I supposed to talk about my family? It seemed impossibly vague.

However, I quickly realized beyond a doubt that I wanted to talk about the Waynflete community and how it shaped me. It’s an awkward and unfamiliar exercise to have to put into writing a description of your values and your most meaningful experiences. (Naturally, the only other time I had to do something similar was in Michele Lettiere’s sophomore English class at Waynflete while working on a year-long autobiography project).

While reflecting for this essay on the many core values I gained at Waynflete, I decided to focus on the three most impactful. These are intellectual curiosity, global stewardship and social justice.

Although I’d never put pen to paper before to describe my time at Waynflete, it was natural and gratifying to be able to succinctly summarize the values I gained there. I was reminded while writing this essay that courses at Waynflete choose to broadcast passion rather cram standardized content, which has been formative throughout my academic career.

Intellectual curiosity is what led me to pursue two interdisciplinary degrees as an undergraduate at Tulane University – a B.S. in Neuroscience and a B.A. in Political Economy. This curiosity further led me to both clinical and basic science research during my time there. I would be remiss not to mention how lucky I was to be introduced to the role of women in science early with rock star mentors in Wendy Curtis and Carol Titterton.

Most importantly, Waynflete taught me that educational endeavors should never be pursed in a vacuum. This is where global stewardship and social justice surface as core values. I remember early as Kindergarten being introduced to other cultures through global focus week. By Upper School, I was lucky to engage with the world historically through Lorry’s Literature of Genocide course, contemporarily through Model United Nations and culturally through Breda’s brilliant Spanish electives.

Academically, Waynflete prepared me better than I could have ever expected for college, but what astounds me most now is how much it also prepared me for dual MD-PhD degrees. Without the core values I gained at Waynflete, I seriously doubt this is a path I would have been successful in or chosen to pursue. By teaching me to be intellectually and morally engaged with the world, I owe Waynflete immeasurable gratitude. I never thought the crazy application cycle for medical school would have led me back to my time there, but I’m so very glad it did.

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