The Grand Prize Winner in the WCI Scholarship contest goes to Allison Neeson, an MS1 at Tufts University School of Medicine. First place in the 2019 WCI Scholarship contest is good for $42,660 cash, her choice of a WCI Online Course, and a copy of The White Coat Investor’s Financial Boot Camp for each member of her class. As always, it has been a pleasure for all of us here at WCI to run this program and to “pay forward” some of the financial success we have experienced while helping those who wear the white coat get a fair shake on Wall Street. I didn’t read all 640+ submitted essays this year, but I did read the top ten (once the judging was complete) and this was my personal favorite. In fact, this was the only one that brought tears to my eyes. I read it while vacationing on a houseboat with friends, including two other physicians. I was so impressed I choked my way through it while reading it to the group, who were also thoroughly impressed. The quality of the writing is only surpassed by the quality of the individual doing it. I hope that like me, your faith in humanity and a small piece of that idealism you had years ago was recovered as you read the posts this week.
Throughout my life I have been many things: daughter, actor, student, friend. As my roles evolved and titles shifted, one thing has always been true. I am short. Growing up the shortest in my class, I became all too familiar with the front row of photographs, my local seamstress, and the expectation of being overlooked in crowds and elevators. I’ve had every “short” adjective appended to my name. Small, tiny, mini, little Allie. Being short is a part of my identity, and it’s a descriptor that extends past my height.
I am short, and I am also short a parent. Instead of the nuclear family normalized by TV shows and my friends’ families, I have one mom with multiple jobs and not a lot of time or energy. A newly minted twenty-year-old armed only with a high-school diploma, my mom was hardly ready to embrace motherhood by the time she had me. Still, without the support she deserved, the years of experience she could have used, and the financial security for which she had hoped, she took on parenting. But she didn’t do it alone. We moved into my grandmother’s house, and there I spent my childhood. Though short a parent, I found myself surrounded by other family members. I’m proud to have been raised by the collaborative efforts of two generations of women, a combination of mother, grandmother, and aunt. They were working-class, head of household, independent women who taught me the power of hard work, all of them offering varying examples of how to contribute to and handle the world. As genetics would have it, each of them is short.
We are short women, and as I quickly discovered in childhood, we were short of cash. For as long as I can remember I have worried about money. By the time I was eight, I was having difficult conversations about debt, bad credit, and the high cost of fruit. In middle school, when I got off the bus to find my mother––who should have been at work––waiting for me, I felt this worry twist my stomach into a knot. In a reversal of roles that would occur many times over, I comforted my mom, newly laid off. I devised a plan to get us through the ensuing weeks, despite my limited sixth-grader budgeting skills. I willed myself to sound sure, ignoring that knot of worry, which had tightened its way up the back of my throat and come to rest in the forefront of my mind. There, the worry stayed. It was constant, albeit sometimes dull. It was a jolt of fear in the middle of the night, in line at the supermarket, out to dinner with friends. It was persistent uncertainty. As I grew up and my roles and titles changed, the worry changed too, though it never left. As an undergraduate, I worried about being unable to get a credit card and establish credit with my student income and without the luxury of a parent who could co-sign. As a medical student, I worry about my small amount of savings and the not-small amount of loans I will take out to pay for school. I don’t know when this worry will finally uproot itself from its firmly planted place in my mind. I can’t yet see the light at the end of the tunnel.
But I am short, and I know about being unable to see things.
My mom never went to college, so the path to medicine was not laid out clearly for me. Instead, I found my way through the jumble of standardized tests, application processes, and all of the other important components that make a strong medical school candidate by following the first tenet of being short: ask for help. I eagerly absorbed advice from my friends’ parents, who had achieved impressive degrees and careers. I signed up for all of the hardest classes, then stayed after class for tutoring to succeed in them. I actively sought mentors in college, frequented the advising office, and relentlessly asked questions. Asking for help––whether it be from a step stool or from a scholarship contest––has always empowered short women. I am not lesser for being unable to do it alone. I am resilient and resourceful for figuring out how to do it anyway.
As I prepare to leave my grandmother’s house for medical school this summer, I can’t help but think about everything it has given me: a bed, cats to cuddle, make-believe stories told under perfectly worn-in comforters, a lifetime of memories. The people within it who raised me and taught me how to overcome limitations gave me a desire to help empower other women who are limited, whether by their height, class, or disease. I enter medical school this summer because I sought help, lots of it, to allow myself to surpass the socioeconomic disparity into which I was born. I enter medical school because my experiences drive me to help other people overcome the limiting adjectives appended to their names. I enter medical school because I have been short my entire life, and it has given me everything. As a doctor, I’ll be many things: care-giver, thinker, teacher, leader. I will also be short. But I am confident that my impact will be far from small.
“Though she be but little, she is fierce.” ––William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream