Monte Vista native Dr. Lynn Drake addresses ASC Commencement
Adams State's Dec. 19 Commencement speaker advised the graduating class to be flexible as they navigate their futures. Dr. Lynn Drake - a true success story from the San Luis Valley and Adams State - related the rewards of several unanticipated turns in her career.
The college awarded 106 degrees, including 14 associate's degrees, 92 bachelor's degrees, and two master's degrees. Anne Rice, vice chair of the Adams State Board of Trustees, told the graduating class: "This is a richly vibrant college to which you all have contributed. The world is lucky to have you."
Representing the graduates was Alamosan Olivia Martinez, president of the Medical Group Management Association Club, who earned her degree in business administration. "I stand before you today on brink of achievement. In high school, Adams State was an institution I always aspired to be a part of," she said. "I've become so much more than when I was a freshman. I've learned life isn't always fair - but you still need to live it, and always take away something from that. I've met some of the best people I know here at ASC. . . .
"George Bernard Shaw said: 'You see things; and you say, 'Why?' But I dream things that never were; and I say, 'Why not?' This school has taught me to ask both. We all share so much. We all have a goal, a dream. We all want more for ourselves. We all share the feeling of success."
Introducing the Commencement speaker, Adams State President David Svaldi said: "Adams State likes to brag about our graduates' high rate of acceptance into medical school and the impressive careers so many of these alumni develop. Today's speaker is one of our greatest stories - in any field."
Drake earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in mathematics and education from Adams State in 1966 and '67, respectively. She then earned her M.D. from the University of Tennessee School of Medicine. She is also a graduate of the Advanced Management Program at Harvard Business School.
Board certified in dermatology and dermatopathology, Drake is now a lecturer in dermatology at Harvard Medical School, a member of the medical staff at Massachusetts General Hospital, and serves as Director of Government and Policy for the Wellman Center for Photomedicine, which is operated by those two institutions
Drake is an internationally recognized expert in her field, advising congressmen and presidential candidates and helping craft national and international health policy. She has spoken before hundreds of medical organizations and given hundreds of media interviews, been a visiting professor at more than 60 universities, and received several named lectureships. She has authored more than 100 papers and been a reviewer or editorial board member for several prestigious medical journals.
"With all of these accomplishments, Dr. Drake says she still sees herself as a valley girl - a San Luis Valley girl," Svaldi added. "She told me she still feels like a kid in candy store with her nose pressed up against the glass, watching all the amazing things around her." Drake titled her remarks: "What your GPS can't tell you." She talked about the benefits of listening to one's "personal global positional system--the one that's hooked up to your heart and mind to let you know when you should change course ... when you need to take a side trip ... or how to deal with an unexpected detour."
Drake's travels off road began just after high school graduation - at age 16 from Sargent High School. By no means did she have a map for her future. "Surprise trips have changed my life dramatically many times, but never more than the evening my mother posed a simple question, as we stood side-by-side at the kitchen sink. A few weeks earlier, I had graduated from Sargent High School as valedictorian, with a four-year scholarship to any school in the state--but I wasn't going to go to college, at all. I had received an engagement ring for graduation, and I was going to get married. That's when my mother asked me, 'Lynn, are you really ready to start doing dishes?'
"Whoa! No way! I have no idea why it took that particular question to wake up my GPS, but that was not the road I wanted to take. So I enrolled at Adams State -- it was close to home." She said she majored in mathematics because, "I honestly believed if I was going to have to go to college I should pick something I didn't know much about. ... I must have been crazy."
Subsequent side trips took Drake to medical school as the only woman in a class of 106. She related how she faced the challenges of gender discrimination and, in addition to practicing dermatology, developed a passion for Emergency Room work. Another opportunity, and Drake's persistence, led to her to Emory University Clinic and her first management position, as chief of dermatology at the Veterans Hospital.
"This was a time of intense political controversy about Agent Orange, a chemical defoliant that some vets had been exposed to. My role taught me how to deal with the press, politicians, and constituent groups--as well as patients who were very angry and upset."
This post ultimately led to "one of the most important side trips" of her life: a Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy Fellowship. The medical school dean who nominated her told her: "If we don't participate, we can't change the system."
"Talk about going off-road! The first eight weeks in DC to study health policy, I was inundated, meeting with members of Congress, think tank people, lobbyists, journalists, the surgeon general--all the players. . . . One evening I called my mom and told her about a research bill on AIDS that I had been working on that afternoon with two senators. She started laughing and said, 'Do you realize that you just spent the afternoon helping to negotiate a bill between Senator Dole and Senator Ted Kennedy in the U.S. Capitol? Pretty high cotton for a girl from rural Colorado.' You know what? It was - that's the window and glass story.
"Because I had steered off the main road, I benefited from a total immersion in government, policy and politics. And when Senator Dole decided to run for president, my fellowship was extended, and I had the amazing privilege of being involved in a presidential campaign. If you ever have a chance, do it. It will be the most fun thing you ever do. I suppose I could have fretted about how off-course I was getting in developing my dermatology career, but my personal GPS told me I was getting an once-in-a-lifetime chance."
Concluding the ceremony, Svaldi told the new Adams State alumni, "Your degree can open up doors you never dreamed of. Dr. Drake told me she never dreamed she'd end up where she is. You can do it. You can do anything you set your mind to."
By Julie Waechter