Why Becoming an Amgen Scholar Was the Best Decision I’ve Ever Made

“Goodbye St. Louis,” said a young boy—perhaps five years of age—while flying home to Pittsburgh.

I had been fighting a full-fledged breakdown for 3 hours, and I was hanging on by a thread. That little kid did what I couldn’t do—realize that my time in St. Louis was over, at least for the time being and say ‘goodbye’.

I had only recently grasped my summer research project and made significant progress in the lab. And, I had said goodbye to some of the best people I’ve ever met earlier that morning.

The boy’s words cut through me like a knife.

I heard them while looking out of my airplane window, scanning the St. Louis skyline for landmarks of friendship. Why?

Because I had some of my fondest memories at those places, and I wasn’t nearly ready to acknowledge the possibility of never making more memories with my Amgen friends.

I immediately spotted the Arch—the keystone to St. Louis’s appearance. The Arch wasn’t significant to me because of its perfect design.

No, I had sought it out because I had cramped 6 people in a 5 person pod that took myself and 5 of my best Amgen friends to the top of the Arch to overlook the entire city of St. Louis. We took photos beside the window, despite David’s fear of heights (even in closed spaces) and had an all-around joy and laughter-filled time.

I located the Scottrade Center, the home of the St. Louis Blues hockey team. The fact that the Blues played there meant nothing to me. I don’t even like hockey.

I went to the Scottrade Center to see Imagine Dragons perform. They were terrific, but I only made it in time for the last 5 songs.

The Center caught my eye because before the concert, I had spent 6 hours in Barnes Jewish Hospital’s emergency room. I had planned on going to the concert with a bunch of summer research students, one of whom was my best friend, Reuben.

The concert started at 7:30, but Reuben hadn’t gone yet, not until he was sure that I made it out of the hospital okay. I only knew Reuben for a few weeks. But, he skipped going to the concert with his date to make sure I had a ride to at least catch the end of the concert.

Then I saw Wash U’s campus—the place where I had lived and interacted with my friends. I started thinking about the times that I will never forget: Ricardo yelling at David for ritually reading the labels of all foods to find the healthiest ones, Reuben and I heckling each other and proclaiming “I hate you!” (and by hate, we meant we loved each other like brothers), Clare spilling drinks, spilling food, spilling anything really, picking on Alex for just about anything I could think of, grand cookouts, road trips to Summerfest, etc.

The memories never ended. They flooded my brain like a roaring river let loose after breaking the dam that held it back for so long.

All this, and then that young boy had to break the “Goodbye St. Louis” on me!

I wasn’t ready.

I reached into my bag to grab some gum, hoping that it would mask my urge to burst into tears. I grabbed a piece of Double Bubble, looked at it, and immediately thought of the adventure Clare and I took to buy bubble gum for her lab’s softball game.

My plan backfired.

As the flight attendant approached to hand out drinks, I quickly grabbed a tissue from my backpack and made myself look like less of a mess.

“Would you like anything to drink?” she asked. I hesitated, because the only thing I drank on airplanes was ginger ale. But, that was the symbol of another memory on my flight to California with Clare and Alex a few weeks prior.

I couldn’t escape the memories I had created with people I finally connected with intellectually and professionally, as well as socially. Just like I couldn’t escape the fact that I had to leave St. Louis and return to school.

I arrived in St. Louis with the intentions of being a “lab rat.” I was going to solve the MRI problem in neurodegenerative diseases. I was going to wake up, go to lab, come back to my dorm and read up on recently published papers, go to sleep, and do it all over again. I was going to impress my PI so much that his letter of recommendation alone would get me into any medical school in the country.

I had never imagined that I would form lifelong bonds with the high character individuals that I met.

Sure being an Amgen Scholar greatly accelerated my career. I knew that it would going into the program. I had done my research and was aware that it was widely regarded as the best summer research program in the country.

However, becoming an Amgen Scholar was the best decision I’ve ever made because I will forever remember the people that I met and the memories that we’ve created. You can put a price on education and a stipend on being a summer researcher, but you cannot measure the value of having lifelong friends.

They are now family to me. Amgen family. Famgen, if you will. And, if I am so lucky as to spend next summer with them again in St. Louis, I will find myself in this same position a year form now.

Until then,

Goodbye, St. Louis.

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