A group of Georgetown University seniors congregated under the sculpted gaze of the institution's founder. The Sunday afternoon party on the quad was one of many planned for "senior week," a time set aside to give departing students one last shot of college-days nostalgia.
Senior Jeanie Westry, 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. After a distinguished undergraduate career, she has been accepted by five medical schools. A sixth has placed her on its waiting list.
The 22-year-old biology major and resident of Rockville has decided to accept the Georgetown offer.
Westry said that aside from her personal reasons for deciding to attend Georgetown, she picked her alma matter's medical school because of the courses it offers in bioethics.
"The ethical considerations here are very important to me," said Westry, whose minor course of study was philosophy and ethics. "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."
Westry's success with medical schools is amazing enough. What adds to her enviable batting average is that she is not a stereotypical hard-driving pre-med student, nose eternally to the grindstone, in the library constantly.
She is a lively girl who likes trendy clothes and a movie on Saturday night. She had time during college to maintain an exceptional B-plus average in difficult pre-med courses, tutor elementary school children in Anacostia and act as an adviser for incoming freshmen at Georgetown. She even studies with the television on.
David Robinson, a biology professor who worked closely with Westry, said that although the Georgetown biology department places about 60 percent of its students in medical schools, which he says is twice the national average, Westry's case is "exceptional."
Robinson noted that Westry is "very bright," but could not offer precise reasons for her acceptance by so many medical schools.
"They're strange animals, those admissions committees," Robinson 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 attributes her success to three factors: her high school education in Montgomery County, her mother and the fact that she is a black woman.
"Going to school in Montgomery County gave me good study habits," Westry said. "A lot of students have probelms in that area."
But her mother, a first-grade teacher at Laytonsville Elementary School, gets most of the credit.
"My ma raised me to have a lot of confidence," said Westry with pride. "There was no pressure to perform and maintain As. 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. She said she always tried to instill in her daughter a sense of determination.
"It doesn't start with one day, but it starts with first grade, building up the fortitude, the strength, the attitude of wanting to do something early in life," Susie Westry said. "I was 100 percent behind her, cheering in the corner."
Jeanie Westry believes the discipline she learned from her mother and her father, who is a lieutenant colonel in the Army, and at Rockville's Robert E. Peary High School and added up to reinforce her position of leadership in the black academic community.
"In (Georgetown's) pre-med, we started with more than 20 blacks," she said. "I think I may be the only black in our pre-med class who's graduating on time . . . But the black kids coming up behind me are really sharp."
In addition to Georgetown, Westry was offered admittance to the medical schools of George Washington University, Howard University, the University of Maryland in Baltimore and to Tennessee's Meharry Medical College, which Westry said was one of two black medical schools in existence when all others were segregated. She also is on the waiting list at the Duke University.
Westry said that when the acceptance letters kept coming in this spring, she was "flustered."
"I kept hoping for some divine guidance to point me to the right school," she said. "And He helped me a lot. I applied to 10 schols, so 60 percent isn't bad. But I had to weigh the pros and cons."
At the same time, she worried about the reactions of her pre-med colleagues.
"Very few people know. I stopped saying when I got another acceptance," Westry confided. "I didn't tell my friends because of the resentment, the competition."
Recalling her wait for replies, she said, "There's a lot of pressure. I've never felt so much pressure in my life as last semester. At first I was crying the blues because I didn't know if I'd be going to medical school, but now . . ."
Westry believes some of her friends are just as qualified as she is, if not more so, to gain admittance to the same schools she did. She said she cannot point to any particularly exceptional achievement 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 said she must 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.
"I want to go into family practice," Westry said. "My boyfriend wants to be a dentist . . . But there's no way to judge what I'll be doing in four years."