Gratitude: Reunion ’18 for MD ’73—The Only Logical Response

By

Leonard Zwelling

It’s a tradition at Duke Medical School. Every five years the flock migrates back to the nest in Durham, North Carolina on the second weekend of November for Medical Alumni Weekend. This year it was my 45th. My turn.

In surveying the other returning classes while here, the attendance of each is highly variable. We were a class of 86. We have had an unfortunately high number of deaths at about a dozen. We had about 10 members show up on Saturday night for the dinner. More dead than living show-ups.

We barely left the dining room. Even when dessert was served in a common space to accommodate all of the returning classes including Senator Rand Paul (MD ’88), our class members got their sweets and returned to our small private dining room to continue the conversations that no one wanted to end.

What are the takeaways?

Numbers one and two are gratitude. First, for having lived long enough to make it back again. Many of my class members did not. Some were very close friends through the years. This is very painful. One widow of a particularly beloved and respected member of the class actually came to the dinner. She was the guest of honor. It was both courageous and kind of her to attend. It was also probably painful for her. Her husband is sorely missed.

She went on to comment about how hard it was to keep up with the widows of the class members. “When your husband dies, you die,” she said. We have decided as a class to reverse this trend and spend the next five years locating every class member and his or her significant other.

The second bit of gratitude is for having been selected to the class all those years ago, 50 to be exact. It was November of 1968 when I received the letter that essentially ended all pretense of my continuing to study for exams as an undergraduate at Duke. I was in. I was going to Duke Medical School. It is life altering and you know it will be on the first day when the intelligence around you suffuses the air. You are among brilliance. What am I doing here?

The final takeaway was in a class of 86 there were only three women and one of those transferred to Harvard after the first year. Thus, our graduating class had only two female members and only one of those was at the dinner Saturday. She’s still on the faculty at Duke. Thus, most of the guests of the ten class members were wives. Three were Duke medical graduates themselves although this was not their year. One was, of course, the BW, Dr. Kleinerman, whose class will reunite in two years. I was so impressed with how strong and powerful the women around the table were. All had had or still have careers of their own and each was bolstered by the man she married as the man she married was bolstered by her.

These were my lessons of the weekend. The campus is still beautiful and the flame of Duke excellence under the good care of new Dean Mary Klotman is secure, but we expect nothing less. What is always surprising are the people themselves. They have all accomplished so much. They have all contributed. Many have hung up their stethoscopes and retired but are keeping active with projects and grand children. But everyone has made a significant contribution.

Our Dean of Admissions, the late, great Syd Osterhout always said of us, “Duke Medical School does not make cookies. We make cookie cutters.” It appears to still be true. For that I shall be grateful all of my days.

These people charted a course of excellence. In so doing they preserve the tradition that is, in fact, less than 100 years old. It is the work after the work to graduation that actually preserves the legacy of Duke Medical School. And we would have it no other way.

Leonard Zwelling