10 Reasons Why I Love Scripps College: Transcription of Speech from Reunion

by Dr. Kathleen Brogan Scwarz '64

Dr. Kathleen Brogan Schwarz ’64, winner of the 2006 Distinguished Alumna Award and renowned pediatric gastroenterologist, spoke to reunion classes on April 29. Her insightful and moving words delighted the audience in Balch Auditorium. By popular demand, we bring them to you in their entirety.

Reason # 10

Failure. Scripps taught me the hidden blessing of failure. I didn’t want to go to Scripps, I was from Iowa. I’d never heard of Scripps. I wanted to go to Stanford. Pomona was second. Scripps was third. Stanford accepted me but didn’t have housing (I think that translates as the very bottom of the admissions list!). Pomona didn’t want me. I went to Scripps. I was so lucky! Stanford would have been too big for me. I ended up getting my biology degree through Pomona anyway. But I would never have had all the humanities and other treasures Scripps had to offer had I been one of many science majors at Pomona.

Scripps also gave me another perspective on failure through our freshman humanities philosophy professor, Dr. Clifford Barrett. We used to joke about the extreme politeness of this quaint gentleman, who would put his coat on before answering the doorbell and used to start class five minutes late because he didn’t want to embarrass latecomers. But we adored him, and even all dressed up in togas and ivy crowns for a philosophy class to show him we really did care about Plato (and about Dr. Barrett).

Dr. Barrett taught us that Plato said,”If you are going to fail, fail so well that no one else has to walk down that pathway.”That lesson is so true in science—you choose a rational hypothesis and design the experiment (whether in cell biology or clinical trials) so well that, if you disprove the hypothesis, no one else has to spend the time or money repeating it.

Thank you, Dr. Barrett.

Reason # 9

The nine weeks Dr. Palmer, a brilliant classicist who taught freshman humanities, gave me to rewrite an analysis of a Middle Egyptian poem.The poem was an argument between the poet and his ba or soul. The poet wanted to commit suicide because the world was going to rack and ruin, barbarians from the north were plundering pyramids, civilization was on the skids.The soul, who clearly had its own agenda, didn’t want the man to kill himself because the soul did not think purgatory was a great place to spend eternity. I wrote the kind of well researched, well annotated (I thought lucidly written) paper that would have won an A+ from Miss Brody, my demanding senior honors English teacher at Roosevelt High School.

A D-minus! He gave me a D-minus! He said he wouldn’t flunk me; after all, I did turn the paper in on time. He would either give me a D-minus or nine weeks to rewrite it. He said the D-minus was for the mediocrity, the absolute absence of any involvement or creativity on my part. He grunted, smoked his cigar, and said sternly,”There is nothing of Kathy Brogan in this paper.You didn’t get inside this ba, this Man.You weren’t in the Middle Kingdom. It’s a terrible job. You can do much better. Stop quoting references. Stop quoting what other people think. Start thinking seriously about this poem yourself.You have a Brain. Use it!” I suffered. I sweated bullets. I cried. Never in my protected pampered goodie two shoes honor student little life had any teacher ever talked to me that way. But I rewrote it.Week by agonizing week. Nothing I had done academically had ever been so difficult. I really did have to Think!

And in 1974, when I was asked to be the Commencement speaker, Dr. Palmer was in the audience, still reeking of cigar smoke, still curmudgeony as ever. But I thanked him publicly and profusely, both for the D-minus and for the B-plus that he finally grudgingly gave me for the rewrite. And even more so for expecting much more of us than we did ourselves. I remember him saying,”So you’re a biology major. What are you going to do with it?” I said,”Well, I did want to be a doctor, but my parents think it’s too much for me. So, I’m going to be a biology teacher.” He replied,”For God’s sake, woman—if you want to be a doctor, be a doctor!”

Thank you, Dr. Palmer.

Reason # 8

Eight semesters of humanities; eight minutes to ride my bike to Pomona for my biology major. I just can’t imagine a richer education. Freshman year humanities was Creation to the Fall of Rome; sophomore year, from the Fall to the Renaissance; junior year, from the Renaissance to modern times; fourth year, elective (which I took) in contemporary American studies. At Pomona, I had a demanding science education, botany and zoology from the best; at CMC I took physics. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, this incredibly rich mixture of science and humanities provided to me by Scripps and The Claremont Colleges was way ahead of its time. Most of my fellow medical students had had a much more traditional pre-med background in the sciences.

The students I interview now for medical school admission, for pediatrics training, and for specialty fellowship training are much more likely to have a background in liberal arts, even to have exercised their creativity in fields completely removed from the traditional pre-medical studies. I have interviewed architects, lawyers, stock brokers, dancers, painters, and engineers for these positions. The practice of medicine brings with it the honor of coming very close to the patients you serve.Thus, I strongly believe that a broadly based education that teaches communication and human understanding is a most important complement to a rigorous scientific background. Both are essential in the making of a competent and compassionate practitioner of the healing arts.

Thank you, Claremont Colleges.

Reason # 7

Seven swans a swimming, which brings memories of the pageantry of the Medieval Christmas Dinner at Grace Scripps Hall, where I lived all four years. Since I was the only person in the dorm who could play the trumpet, I got to dress up as a page and go around to the faculty homes to summon our favorite faculty to come to this glorious feast, where we greeted them with the druids bringing in the Yule Log and pages singing madrigals.We proudly brought our guests into the hall where the tables were overflowing with fruit of the realm.Then came the Boar’s Head bedecked with bay and rosemary. Such a crazy silly beautiful glorious celebration just wouldn’t have been possible on most college campuses in that era.

Thank you, fellow dwellers of Grace Scripps (Clark) Hall forthose memories.

Reason # 6

Reason #6 is Rule #6. Rosamund and Benjamin Zander (conductor of the Boston Philharmonic) described this in their book, The Art of Possibility:

Two prime ministers are sitting in a room discussing affairs of state. Suddenly, a man bursts in, apoplectic with fury, shouting and stamping and banging his fist on the desk.The resident prime minister admonishes him: “Peter,” he says, “kindly remember Rule Number 6,” whereupon Peter is instantly restored to complete calm, apologizes, and withdraws.

The politicians return to their conversation, only to be interrupted yet again twenty minutes later by a hysterical woman, gesticulating wildly, her hair flying. Again the intruder is greeted with the words:”Marie, please remember Rule Number 6.”

Complete calm descends once more and she too withdraws with a bow and an apology.When the scene is repeated for a third time, the visiting prime minister addresses his colleague: “My dear friend, I’ve seen many things in my life, but never anything as remarkable as this. Would you be willing to share with me the secret of Rule Number 6?”

“Very simple,” replies the resident prime minister. “Rule Number 6 is: Don’t take yourself so damn seriously.”

“Ah,” says his visitor, “That is a fine rule.” After a moment of pondering he inquires,”And what, may I ask, are the other rules”

“There aren’t any.”

During my first three years at Scripps, I decided I should follow my parents’ advice and give up the overly ambitious dream of going to medical school, do something more practical, teach, get married. Then I had a senior crisis and decided I wasn’t being true to my dreams. After a lot of tortured introspection, I decided I was going to go to medical school after all. Drained and spent, I went to Dr. Edward White, my senior humanities professor, to ask him for a letter of recommendation. He said, “I’ll write the letter, but for Pete’s sake, please stop taking yourself so seriously. If you think it would be fun to be a doctor, if you love biology, love people, love solving problems for them—get a big charge out of staying up all night studying anatomy—then great, go do it. But only if it’s fun and only if you bring true joy to the role.”

Thank you, Dr.White.

Reason # 5

Five senses to appreciate beauty. Sculptor Albert Stewart gave us such amazing lectures on Egyptian, Greek, and Roman sculpture, on Michelangelo, on his own elegant work, on how form follows function—something I see happening in biological systems all the time. Every time I come to this campus, I spend some quiet moments admiring the Stewart fawn, thinking again how blessed I was to have had professors like him, people for whom Beauty was a living breathing thing, an essential element of every day.

Thank you, Professor Stewart.

Reason # 4

Four friends from my freshman year, 1960. Shakespeare, Sonnet 104: “To me, fair friend, you can never be old.”

Scripps has been such a treasure trove of friends for me. I’m so thankful for Karen Diehl Merris, my Grace Scripps roommate, who crossed the U.S. continent to be here today; for Dr. Lynn Fenberg Egerman (currently in Israel), the other pre-med in our class, who has been the West Coast mom for our sons; for Sharon Walther Blasgen a new old friend, with whom I’ve recently been reunited and who was so very helpful just recently with a family crisis; and for Judy Harvey Sahak
[the Sally Preston Swan Librarian at Denison] who’s our Scripps College anchor. Emerson wrote, “A friend may well be reckoned the masterpiece of nature.” I couldn’t agree more.

Thank you Karen, Lynn, Sharon, and Judy and all my new and old Scripps friends, including the very special Armenta family who surprised me a few minutes ago by showing up. Fritz and I have been close friends with Lillian and George since our days in Venezuela in the late 60s.Their lovely daughter,Toni, is a graduate of Scripps—and is standing in the back with her parents, husband David, and gorgeous two-year old son Sammy.

Reason #3

My three very special Loves-my husband of almost 40 years, Dr. Frederick Henry Schwarz, and our two sons, Kurt and Axel. No, I didn’t find them here among the tulip trees. But I do firmly believe the balance and beauty that Scripps provided did and does make me a better wife and mom, better able to juggle marriage, motherhood, and medicine. And Schiller says, “What is life, without the radiance of love?”

Thank you, Fritz, Kurt, and Axel.

Reason #2

For two people, Drs. Philip and Franciszka Merlan, the quintessential Scripps professors, devoted to each other, devoted to learning. Plato, The Symposium:”Love is the joy of the good, the wonder of the wise, the amazement of the gods.”

Thank you, Professors Merlan, for epitomizing these qualities so very well.

Reason #1

Miss Ellen Browning Scripps.

“The paramount obligation of a college is to enable its students to think clearly and independently and to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.”

What a wonderful recipe for this troubled world of ours! Miss Scripps clearly created this place to produce students to have a purpose beyond themselves. How proud she would be to see that dream fulfilled with the outstanding graduates this college is producing.

Thank you, Miss Scripps.

Thank you

I will close with T.S. Eliot, whose elegant phraseology wraps a ribbon around these 10 reasons and helps me understand why I am so grateful to be here at Scripps College, where I started my career as a serious student, receiving this special award.

 


What we call a beginning is often the end

And to make an end is to make a beginning

The end is where we stand from

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started

And to know the place for the first time.

 

Thank you, Scripps College.

Thank you very much.

Dr. Philip Merlan, c. 1950s.
Archival photos, courtesy Scripps College Archives, Denison Library.