A group of Georgetown University seniors congregated under the sculpted gaze of the college's founder.
Senior Jeanie Westry, 22, laughing with her comrades, was caught up in the spirit of freedom in the pause between one life and another.
But Westry has another reason to be happy. She was accepted this past semester into five medical schools, and a sixth has her on its waiting list. One of the accepting medical schools was Georgetown's, and she has taken the offer.
Westry's success rate with medical shcools is amazing. What adds to her enviable batting average is that she's not a stereotypical hard-driving premed student, nose eternally to the grindstone.
She is lively, and likes trendy clothes and a movie on Saturday night. She had time during college to maintain a B-plus average, tutor elementary school kids in Anacostia and advise incoming freshmen.
David Robinson, a Georgetown biology professor who worked closely with Westry, said the probability of being admitted to so many medical schools is "not great." Although the school's biology department places about 60 percent of its students in medical school, about twice the national average he said, Westry's case is "exceptional."
"They're strange animals, those admissions commmittees," he said. "They all look for a certain mix of qualities. They want a community of students who will turn out to be good physicians but they don't want the standard product. They want variety, the spice of life."
Westry's mother, a first-grade teacher at Laytonville Elementary School in Maryland, (the family lives in Rockville, Md.) gets most of the credit for this particular variety.
"My ma raised me to have a lot of confidence," Westry explained."There was no pressure to perform and maintain A's. No pressure is important. I always said, 'Ma, what if I don't turn out to be a doctor? Would you be mad at me? She'd say 'no,' and I'd say, 'If I turn out to be a streetcleaner, I'll be the best one you've ever seen.'"
Her mother, of course, couldn't be prouder of her only child.
"It doesn't start with one day, but it starts with first grade," Susie Westry said, "Building up the fortitude, the strength, the attitude of wanting to do something early in life. I was 100 percent behind her, cheering in the corner."
Westry believes the discipline she learned from her mother and her father, an Army lieutenant colonel, reinforced her.
She was accepted at the medical schools at Georgetown, George Washington University, Howard University, the University of Maryland in Baltimore and Tennessee's Meharry Medical College, which she noted was one of two black medical schools in existence when all others were segregated. She is on the waiting list of the Duke University medical school.
But she chose her alma mater because it offers courses in bioethics, a decision that reflects her minor course of study in philosophy and ethics.
"The ethical considerations here are very important to me," Westry said. "Georgetown (Hospital) has a very humane attitude towards people and doctor-patient relationships.The medical school has a core of ethics courses, and the other schools don't."
When the acceptance letters kept coming in this spring, Westry said, she was "flustered."
"I kept hoping for some divine guidance to point me to the right school. And He helped me a lot," she said. "I applied to 10 schools, so 60 percent isn't bad. But I had to weigh the pros and cons."
At the same time, she felt bothered about the reactions of her pre-med colleagues.
She believes some of her friends are just as qualified, if not more so. She said she cannot point to anything particularly exceptional about her achievements that would separate her from others in her pre-med class.
"There's no rhyme or reason to it," she said, shaking her head. "The grades might be the same, or maybe someone's done volunteer work in a health clinic. Georgetown's a quality school. They tell you they'll weed you out, and they do. They separate the wheat from the chaff."
Right now, Westry has to concentrate on getting a scholarship, noting that Georgtown's medical school tuition has gone up to $14,750 per year. She's considering military scholarships but says she would prefer a public health scholarship, which involves practicing in a rural area after graduation. h
"I want to go into family practice," she said, "My boyfriend wants to be a dentist . . . But there's no way to judge what I'll be doing in four years." d