The University Record, June 19, 2000

Medical School graduates leave unusual legacy

By Sally Pobojewski
Health System Public Relations

Geneticist Francis Collins offered four pieces of advice to Medical School graduates earlier this month. Photo by Paul Jaronski, U-M Photo Services
The Medical School sent a remarkable group of 163 new physicians out into the world on June 9. In many ways, it was a typical commencement ceremony—part joy, part sadness and mostly overwhelming relief—accompanied by cheering friends, teary-eyed mothers and fathers jockeying for the best camera angle.

But there was something unusual about the Class of 2000—something that set it apart from any other graduating class in the Medical School’s 150-year history. They left behind a special class gift.

In appreciation for their medical education and to provide scholarships for future first-year medical students, they pooled individual contributions and money from fund-raising activities to create the Class of 2000 Endowment.

Debt-ridden medical students just starting careers don’t have a lot to give, but the class plans future contributions and the endowment’s value will appreciate over time.

“For students who face their own financial challenges, it is a significant gift and we are extremely proud of them,” says Mike DeBrincat, the Medical School’s alumni director. “Most classes don’t consider something like this until they have been working for at least five to 10 years.”

“No other class has established an endowment coincident with their graduation,” Dean Allen S. Lichter told the graduates and audience in Hill Auditorium. “Over time, the endowment will turn out to be the largest in the school’s history and could eventually benefit every U-M medical student. You are an inspiration to all of us.”

A special class deserves a memorable commencement speaker and the Class of 2000 was not disappointed.

Francis S. Collins, on leave from the Medical School to direct the National Human Genome Research Institute in Washington, D.C., told the graduates that they had something in common with the soon-to-be-completed Human Genome Project. “We are both at the end of the beginning,” he said. “It’s time to stop and savor what you have achieved and look forward to your full potential.”

Although he described commencement address wisdom as “having a half-life of milliseconds,” Collins did have some words of advice for members of the Class of 2000.

First, he urged them to seek a balanced life. “Medicine can be demanding,” he said. “Do not allow the pressures of your profession to crowd out the rest of your life.”

Second, he urged the graduates not to neglect their spiritual life and to reject the idea that belief in God is incompatible with science or the intellect. “Don’t wait for a spiritual crisis to deal with a lack of faith in your life,” he said.

Third, Collins stressed the importance of love for one another, especially a life partner. “Medicine places romantic relationships at risk,” he warned. “Make it a priority.”

Last, and most important, is fun. “Don’t forget to exercise your sense of humor, because you are going to need it,” Collins warned. Pulling out a guitar, Collins closed his commencement address to the Class of 2000 with “a song that’s all about you and a great University,” loosely based on Frank Sinatra’s “I Did It My Way.”

I came, I bought the books, learned to draw blood, followed directions

I worked, I studied hard, made lots of friends that had connections

I crammed, they gave me grades, and may I say not in a fair way

But more, much more than this, I did it their way.

I learned so many things, although I know I’ll never use them

The courses that I took were all required, I didn’t choose them

You’ll find that to survive it’s best to play the doctrinaire way

And so I knuckled down, and did it their way.

Yes there were times I wondered why

I had to cringe when I could fly

I had my doubts but after all

I clipped my wings and learned to crawl

I learned to bend and in the end

I did it their way.

And now, my fine young friends, now that I am a full professor

Where once I was oppressed, I have now become the cruel oppressor

With me I hope you’ll see the double helix is a highway

And yes, you’ll learn it’s best to do it my way.

I’m just a man, what can I do?

Open your books, read chapter two

And if it seems a bit routine

Don’t talk to me, go see the Dean

Just start today, love DNA,

And do it my way.

Francis S. Collins