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As president of the Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine Class of 2022, it is my privilege to reflect on the choice to become a doctor. Personally, I’m preoccupied with awe and gratitude for my family, in particular my parents and wife, whose physical labor and emotional support have made my path possible. Very few individuals complete a medical education without a support system. As we walk across the stage and are cheered for our accomplishments, we must remember everyone who enabled us to chase our dreams.

My parents sacrificed a lot to help me and my brothers obtain a good education. It wasn’t easy, but they never lost faith that investing in our future was the greatest gift they could provide. Stressful times in medical school pale in comparison to the constant demands of work, bills and parenting that my mom and dad must have faced. Their grit and perseverance were amazing life lessons. My mom was born into a family that emphasized the American Dream — the idea that opportunity would grow with each generation. My dad is a Filipino immigrant who instilled in us a strong sense of family, loyalty and resourcefulness. While one of my selfish reasons for pursuing a medical degree was to ensure my own sons’ goals are obtainable, my parents are proof that you don’t have to be a physician to help your kids reach for the stars. Beyond their sacrifices during my childhood, my parents’ love and support were tangible in med school, as they frequently provided childcare, particularly during many periods of the pandemic when chaotic work schedules, illnesses and day-care closures were constant. I am incredibly grateful for my parents’ support and protection. When the chips are down, they have never failed to be present.

My beautiful wife, Lakin, has borne the brunt of the ancillary challenges that come with medical school. We met toward the end of high school as employees of Chick-fil-A. While surviving four years of our long-distance relationship during college, Lakin completed her undergraduate degree at Marshall. She later received her master’s in geography from Mississippi State University, eventually becoming a geospatial analyst for the West Virginia Department of Agriculture. During my former life as a military officer, Lakin sacrificed many of her own professional goals due to the nature of my career. Through multiple moves, months-long training across the country and a long deployment overseas, Lakin worked, kept the house in order and often served the role of mom and dad. When making this decision to change the course of our lives, Lakin stepped up and took on even more responsibilities to allow me to chase the crazy dream of becoming a doctor. I will always harbor some guilt for making her own vocational goals that much more difficult. She has, however, never complained, and continues to work and put a roof over our heads.

As we prepare for our next move to Columbus, where I will begin my residency at Ohio State, I am fortunate to have little stress knowing my amazing wife and mother to our boys will be there, again sacrificing her own ambitions so I can pursue mine. People often say a successful marriage is rooted in compromise, but the ones supporting those in this profession are often left doing most of the compromising. Perhaps one day I will be able to repay this debt, but for now all I have to offer is my gratitude for Lakin’s continued willingness to do anything for our family’s happiness.

My story of becoming a doctor is just one example of the sacrifices an individual’s support system makes. While we students sign away much of our lives, those with less say in the matter often sign away much more. I can’t speak to the fairness of this journey, but I can share these words of appreciation to my amazing family and all they have done to give me the opportunity to reach this moment in my life.

John Castillo, M.D., is president of the Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine Class of 2022, which graduated April 29.

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