At the very start of the semester, we were told by countless faculty and staff to “find our WHY”, to “remember our WHY”, and to “hold onto our WHY” when things got difficult, or disheartening, or discouraging.
Why did you come to Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine?
Why do you want to become a veterinarian?
Why are you here?
I would be lying if I said this semester has been difficult. Challenging, for sure. But to be perfectly honest, this has been my best post-high school academic semester. I am doing better than I ever did in undergrad. I’m understanding new material more thoroughly, involving myself more in class, and getting consistently better grades in each and every one of my classes. For the first time in my entire life, I actually feel smart. I have been told by family, friends, teachers, doctors, professors, etc… that I am “smart”, but I always thought they were lying. When I got to undergrad, I resigned myself to being okay with being OK. With being average. My transcript was just a reflection of what I had known all along, despite whatever someone else tried to tell me.
Being here has been totally different. My best grades have been in my Pharmacology and Introduction to Medical Mathematics and in Microbiology. Granted, neither course has required Calculus or Organic Chemistry (classes I to-this-day still have stress-nightmares about), but I have always struggled with math, and microbiology was not my best grade in undergrad. Who am I here?
Anyway. This isn’t supposed to feel like one long self-congratulatory pat on the back. That’s not the point.
Despite the good grades, despite the good friends, despite the beautiful backdrop of my studies, it’s hard not to get discouraged. We were (only half-jokingly) advised by a professor not to watch the news about things going on in the U.S. because “It’s sad, and sad people don’t perform well on exams”. But I read and watch the news anyway, either through friends posting to their Facebook pages or by actively seeking it out. I like to be informed. However being informed, particularly when it comes to things like rollbacks to the Endangered Species Act, rising global temperatures being ignored for decades, transgender individuals being barred from military service, the Justice Department saying that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 doesn’t protect LGTBQ+ citizens from discrimination, our government tearing itself (and its citizens) apart over healthcare, North Korea gaining nuclear power, and of course, “The Era of Biological Annihilation“, there have been many days when my eyes glaze over, my notes becoming blurry, and I stop and wonder: What is the point?
What is the point? When the world is on fire and it seems like there is nothing but vitriol coating the news and there’s a good chance we’re all going to be blown to bits anyway, what is the point? Why did I come here? Why should I become a veterinarian? Is it really worth the debt I’ll be incurring? Why am I here? I could be at home with my dog and my family having an OK, pretty comfortable life instead of being over one thousand and a half miles away, studying until my brain literally hurts. Eventually, of course, I pull myself out of that spiral and continue on with my work. I have covered my desk with pictures of my dog, my family, my close friends. There would be times when I would grit my teeth and angrily murmur to myself: For them, before continuing on with my studies.
Then I started to notice a pattern. Just like any other academic institution, RUSVM has a plethora of clubs, both of the veterinary and non-veterinary related variety. I myself am a member of the Zoo, Exotics, Wildlife Medicine (ZEW Med), Avian Medicine, Wildlife Disease Association (WDA), Aquatic Veterinary Medicine (Ross’s WAVMA Chapter), and One Health clubs. These clubs are able to bring in guest lecturers to speak during lunch or after official classes are over on a wide variety of topics. Because of the clubs I am a member of, such lectures usually revolve around wildlife conservation medicine or exotic pet medicine.
I realized that there is no other time here when I feel more super-charged than directly after these lectures. There is no other time when I go to class or return to the dorms to study more motivated to learn than after these lectures. A couple of weeks ago, after a particularly rousing lecture on sea turtle conservation on the island I jokingly remarked to my friend: “I’m going to need to start watching conservation-related videos in the morning to get me pumped for the day.”
Without even realizing it, I had forgotten my “WHY”. In the madness that has been the past several weeks of exams, GI upsets, cellulitis, crappy news cycles, and a pretty extreme bout of homesickness, I had allowed my “WHY” to slip right out of my grasp, and to be replaced by less substantial counterparts.
Why did you come to RUSVM? To be a veterinarian, I guess.
Why do you want to be a veterinarian? To make my parents happy, to not let anyone down now that I’m here, I guess.
Why are you here? I. Don’t. Know.
To give you scope of how affected I was, I gave a presentation on my “WHY” in the 3rd week of classes. It only took the subsequent weeks for me to slowly lose sight of it, to be consumed with and by other things. It’s kind of worrying and a little embarrassing that that’s all it took, but that’s all it took. I wasn’t particularly depressed, just distracted.
Earlier this week, I reminded myself of my “WHY”. For the first time since I had commented to my friend, I made a point to watch a video before jumping into my studies. That video happened to be “The Crocodile Hunter: Steve’s Story”. For one particular clip at the end. A clip that, with the exception of perhaps the past several weeks in my cloudy spiral, has been stuck in my brain since I first saw it in 1999.
“Because, if we can touch people about wildlife, then they want to save it…Because humans want to save the things that they love. My job, my mission, the reason I’ve been put on this planet is to save wildlife.”
Chills. I got chills when I saw it on/around its original release date when I was just 6 years-old, and I got chills watching it today, and transcribing the above quote. I have said it before, and I will say it again. The reason I am here (WHY I am here), here on this planet, is wildlife. I feel it deep down in my bones. I feel it in my soul. I felt it when I watched this clip when I was 6 and had no other way to articulate it than to repeat what Steve Irwin said, nearly verbatim, to anyone who asked until I could put it into my own words. I have thought about and considered this quote at least a few times a week since I first heard it (and then watched it over, and over, and over again on VHS).
Whatever your feelings for the Crocodile Hunter aside, this was the man who introduced me to wildlife. The man that made me fall in love with crocodilians and sharks and snakes and even spiders. Who instilled the “WHY” of wildlife conservation in me without me realizing it when I was just 5 years-old (when I first saw episodes of the TV show on Animal Planet). I want to be to others who Steve Irwin was to me. All I have ever wanted to do with my life is to share my passion for wildlife, to help others see the beauty where they initially see fear, to help make this planet a better place for humans and the wildlife and wild places we share it with.
I have always said that I was lucky that I’ve always known my destination, even if I wasn’t always sure of the path. Without fully realizing it, I have always had a “why”.
Now I know how to use it.
I’m at Ross University School of Veterinarian because I want to make the world a better and safer place for wildlife. To be a voice for those who cannot speak for themselves. To encourage others to see wildlife the way I do, to light a fire like the one I’ve carried since I was 5 years-old.
I want to be a veterinarian so I can have the power to help wildlife in distress, and to keep ambassador animals in zoological institutions as happy and healthy and possible. So I can be on the cutting edge of the One Health movement, and make a difference in developing communities.
I am here on this planet to aid wildlife conservation.
That is my why. And I’m going to make sure I never lose sight of it again.