There are NO “art” or “science” students

Our young people are being sold a lie

“I’m an art/science/commerce student.”

What?!

It distresses me to hear this statement. And it distresses me not just because the statement is a lie (it is—more on that shortly), but especially because it’s a lie that becomes foundational to the speaker’s self-image.

Like, just stop already.

There’s no art or science student.

What there are is students doing art or science or whatever.

Look, I’m not just being deliberately pedantic: this is more than just semantics. This is life and death. And no, I’m not being merely dramatic, either: a little part of us really is cut off and dies when we squeeze ourselves into frameworks that weren’t built to take us into account.

It’s this either-or mentality that kills me.

I run into “science” students who assume, without even considering the matter, that they have no business writing. I’ve met “art” students who don’t even try to understand math. And what breaks my heart is not that they don’t know these things or aren’t good at them. It’s that they don’t even try.

They have come to see these categories, not as identifiers as their identity; to see them as descriptors, not of what they are doing, but of who they are.

A year ago, I was excited to be part of a giveback drive by former classmates which included hosting a career fair for final year medical students in our alma mater. In a bid to keep things engaging, we followed up the typical speeches (just a couple) with an extended interactive session during which the students went around makeshift stalls we had set up. Each stall represented a different medical specialty or subspecialty, and the idea was for them to be able to go around and ask questions at whichever they were interested in.

I was, of course, at the mental health stall and I had a blast taking their questions. But there was one question that really struck me and I don’t think I’ll forget that one for awhile, although I can’t remember the student clearly now.

She wanted to know: she loved singing and medicine, and although she had tried (with some success) to keep up with both as a student, she was sort of mourning in advance the day she was sure would inevitably come: when she would have to choose between one and the other.

I don’t remember exactly what I told her. But I can tell you what I would have loved to tell her today and I can assure you that it pretty much captures what I’d have said then (but maybe less articulately):

“Girl, it’s true that day might come, but it also might not. There’s really only way to find out, isn’t there? Keep doing what you do, and keep trying to make space for both in your life, and see where the road takes you. But don’t pretend you have a map for it when you really don’t.”

And I told her about doctors I know who also are very into dance, about dentists who also design graphics, about photographers who make music, and about myself, how I love technology and writing just as much as I love medicine.

And although I forget my words to her, I remember their effect very vividly: her face lit up with a beautiful smile that went all the way right into her eyes. And I knew I’d hit home. It was that moment when you could see that she was seeing something for the first time, and yet seeing it so clearly she’d be wondering how she’d never seen it before.

But that was just one person. One.

There are thousands—no, millions—more just like her, stuck in a cage with an open door.

Will you, at least, tell the ones you know?


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