The Johns Hopkins University's 2001 commencement ceremony takes place Thursday, May 24. Two Hopkins seniors -- one about to enter medical school, another a Rhodes scholar -- are particularly inspiring.
Tonya Walker, Freeport, N.Y. -- public health major, future medical student
The oldest of three girls and daughter of a single mother who struggled to stay employed, Tonya Walker was left in charge of taking care of her younger sisters when she was as young as 7. She was 8 when she saw her 2-year-old sister, Tasha, drop unconscious to the floor while they were playing a game of house. They rushed her to the hospital and, while her mother went with the doctors, Tonya waited in the visitor's lounge, holding her 5-year-old sister's hand and quietly crying because she was convinced that her baby sister was dead and she was somehow responsible for it. Hours later, a doctor came in to talk to her. Tasha would be fine, he said. She had something called juvenile diabetes. Tasha looked at this doctor with awe; she believed that he had resurrected her baby sister. From that moment on, she was determined she would become a doctor.
That determination never changed, although some of her reasons for it did. Tonya's mother, a Jamaican immigrant, was only 16 when she first became pregnant. On her own with three young girls, decent-paying, stable jobs did not come or stay easily for her. Tonya has been through numerous evictions and moves and has spent most of her life living in public housing in the Bronx and Brooklyn in New York City. While her mother was out working, Tonya took care of the girls, especially Tasha. By 12, Tonya was boarding buses alone with her little sister to keep doctor's appointments. She would even sign the paperwork. At home, she would administer the insulin injections, monitor her food intake, her daily glucose and ketone levels. During Tasha's hospital stays, Tonya was often the family member who discussed her sister's care plans with doctors and nurses.
"Most of those doctors were underpaid and resentful that they worked with low-income people and many of them treated us like we were sub-human," recalls Tonya. "It just made me want to work more than ever in underserved populations like the one I grew up in. Because of that, I've always wanted to be the kind of doctor that treats all my patients with respect, treat them as my equals."
She continued being a surrogate mom during high school, while running track and playing tennis, holding a job and studying typically until 2 a.m. She graduated third in her class at Freeport High School, a large urban high school in New York, and was accepted into every college where she applied. The two that offered the best packages were Cornell and Johns Hopkins.
On Thursday, May 24, Tonya graduates from Hopkins with honors. She has been accepted at every medical school to which she has applied. Ironically, she's narrowed it down to Hopkins and Cornell. It's an especially hard decision, because she misses home and wants to be near her family, particularly her mother, who is pregnant with her fourth child.
Westley Moore, Pasadena, Md. -- international relations major, Rhodes scholar
Westley Moore's prospects in life looked pretty dim. His widowed mother worked three jobs to pay for her children's education. But Westley, who was raised in the Bronx, had little interest in school, had a reputation in school as a trouble maker and even had some minor run-ins with the police. For secondary school, he went to Valley Forge Military Academy and College in Pennsylvania. He hated it, and was in the process of dropping out when he called his mother. What she said turned him around. She had told him countless times before what his education meant to her and her family, but this time, her words finally clicked with him. Then she told him that his late father was looking down from heaven and would be proud of him if he really tried.
He took her words to heart and for the first time, he really tried. By the time he graduated with an associate's degree, he was regimental commander and cadet of the year. In 1998, he transferred to Johns Hopkins
Moore, an international relations major who is minoring in economics, is a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserve. He played wide receiver on the Blue Jay football team and serves on the board of directors of the Central Maryland Chapter of the March of Dimes. He's been involved in many service groups, most recently he worked with the Baltimore City public defender's office to found a service program called Students Taking a New Direction, or STAND, to pair Johns Hopkins and other college students with juveniles who have been arrested and would benefit from mentoring.
He is also the first Rhodes Scholarship winner from Johns Hopkins since 1988. Rhodes Scholarships, among the most prestigious in the world, provide winners with two or three years all-expense- paid study at Oxford University in England. Moore hopes to earn a master of philosophy degree in international relations.
"I wasn't actually expecting it," Moore said of his reaction to his selection, several hours after he and other finalists for four slots in a six-state area had completed their interviews in Washington. "They pulled us all in and I was the third name called and I was totally shocked. I almost wanted them to repeat it to make sure they got it right."
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