Leadership is a constant theme and emphasis at CMC. In fact, one of the ways we describe CMC students is "Leaders in the Making." Identify and discuss a person, fictional or nonfictional, who has helped shape culture and thought. You may select someone from any field: literature, the arts, science, politics, history, athletics, business, education, etc.
To me, leadership does not necessarily mean accumulating as many titles as possible. I feel one leads through his or her dedication, supportive actions, and contributions. This is why I chose Dr. Donald Ainslie Henderson (1928-), epidemiologist and physician. Superficially, he has earned titles such as the first person to initiate the World Health Organization's (WHO) global program of immunization, dean of the John Hopkins School of Public Health, considered "a real American hero" by the US legislature, awarded by President Ronald Reagan for the National Medal of Science, and have been honored by fourteen countries. However, these titles don't even begin to tell the story of Dr. D.A. Henderson. They don't reveal his persevering inner spirit or the opportunities that his work have offered to the entire world. They don't reveal how his determination and his genius came together to create one of the most vital chapters in the history worlds eradication programs. And most of all they don't reveal his greatest contribution: the inspiration he has given to thousands of young medically interested students, just like me.
Dr. Henderson has guided me, through both the real world of poverty and diseases, as well as the world of finding solutions to world problems through science. I have always been intrigued never-ending possibilities presented by the research and vaccinations that science beholds. I will never forget the day my Grandpa from India showed me a black and white picture of Dr. Henderson. I was only seven, but I still remember the stories my grandfather told me about the ruthless disease of smallpox murdering thousands of millions of Indian citizens. Teary-eyed, he told me about his relatives and very close friends whose lives were devastated with the smallpox virus - eliminating whole families, newborn children and destroying the people of India's peaceful lifestyle. He then looked back at the picture of Dr. Henderson and said a prayer thanking Henderson for protecting his family from the immersing problem of smallpox during his younger years in the 1960's. Intrigued by how my strict, illuminating grandfather was so affected by this simple, plain clothed doctor, I wanted to be just like this man who had made such a global impact.
It was not until I read The Demon in the Freezer by Richard Preston, which showed the actions and passions of the smallpox eradicators, that I finally understood why grandfather had been so appreciative of Henderson. The story discussed how, despite many pessimistic comments about the failure of world eradication of smallpox, Henderson still spearheaded this worldwide eradication process in hopes that those in developed, and developing countries can be safe from one less destructive, painful and lethal disease. All the more, the book alludes to his persisting drive making Henderson the legend that I constantly look up to.
I was so amazed by the actions and determination of Henderson that by twelve years old I decided to become just like him - a world leader. The courage that Henderson showed to the world is something that one day, I know I will follow in his footsteps with my own courage. I will never forget Dr. Henderson for giving me the strength to overcome my fears and showing me that anything is truly possible as long as you are determined, and not brought down by others' pessimism. Like me, Henderson was a determined individual with a love for both humanity and science. All his actions stress two qualities I feel are most important in a leader: dedication and compassion. He taught the world that it is not enough to simply say something cannot be done - something can always be done as Henderson has proved. It was his choice to go against many scientists who said eradication of a disease would never be possible and complete the task worldwide that make him a legend to me.
Because of him, I am fortunate to be born in a generation where I no longer need to fear the rapacity of a disease that operates a brutal and indiscriminate extermination. Yet there are vast amount of diseases: malaria, HIV/AIDS, cholera, and polio; diseases that have yet to be apprehended. In reality, these diseases are the terrorists of the world, with no other purpose than to eliminate mankind. I now know that overcoming obstacles in the present is simply leading me to a future as a pathologist striving to bring down these global ravagers.
As I know this dream will become a reality, I have started to see the world of medicine and leadership around me. I have used the determination displayed by Dr. Henderson as motivation to donate over 500 hours of volunteer work to the local hospital and Red Cross group in my local community with hopes that someday I will make a change just like Henderson did for my grandfather. My active participation in the American Red Cross club was a crucial step in building my understanding of the compassion associated with medicine. While helping run blood drives, I realized that the selfless acts of a few are the lifelines of a great many others. My desire to reach out into the hearts of others has led me to vow to become a part of Doctors Without Borders, a humanitarian organization of medical workers serving humankind without prejudice. I feel that it is the most fitting role I can assume to benefit all. With the aid of all, I believe that we can destroy polio. We can destroy HIV/AIDS. We have proven ourselves capable of our goals again and again, and it is a matter of our determination to "unmulun" (to be torn up by the roots in Sanskrit) these diseases from the human heart and mind.
Yesterday, we received proof that we are capable of destroying our biological adversaries. Today, we have been handed the tools to apprehend the long charge ahead of us. And tomorrow, we can visualize a world where we no longer have to fear because of people like Dr. Donald Ainslie Henderson.
I know, I will one day be like him.