As you may know, Marvelyne and I lived on the upper west side of Manhattan from August 2011 to June 2012. We’re always up for a year long adventure, especially in NYC which is our favorite city on earth! But, there was a bigger reason we relocated to New York for a year.
After much research and study and contemplation, I applied for the M.S. in Narrative Medicine program at Columbia University in the city of New York. In early 2011, I received my acceptance letter. I wanted to get a Master’s Degree in something that combined my love of working with health care professionals with my other passion, writing.
In 2008 and 2009, I was truly honored to present for students in the Columbia University School of Nursing. Through this relationship, I met and became friends with Dr. Norma Hannigan. When I started searching out a way to better my education, I laid out some scenarios for Dr. Hannigan’s consideration.
Is there anything out there that combines health care and writing? Her answer surprised me: “Marcus, have you ever thought about Narrative Medicine? Columbia has the only Narrative Medicine program in the country.” I’d not even heard of Narrative Medicine, but after a few google searches, I was drooling at the possibility! A Master’s made just for Marcus!
Presenting for an Ivy League school like Columbia was one of the highlights of my professional career. But when the possibility rolled around I could actually study at Columbia? Well, that’s a little intimidating for a boy from High Hill, Missouri. Yet, if I didn’t accept this golden opportunity, I’d not be true to myself. So, I took the plunge. Rather, “we” took the plunge; me, Marvelyne and Garrett.
Our adventure in NYC was, in a word, fantastic! The course work for Narrative Medicine was tough. Real tough. Master’s level work at an Ivy League university? Huh. Go figure!
On August 1, 2012, I submitted my final capstone project to my professor, Dr. Rita Charon, who founded the NM program. Then, I waited. My capstone received an A grade which meant I’d gotten through the entire program with a 4.0. This surprised even me! Then, I waited some more… because, quite frankly, until I had my diploma in hand, I couldn’t let myself believe I was truly done.
In mid-November, I received a big, thick padded envelope from Columbia University. I thought I knew what was in it, but wanted to wait to open it. Just for a couple weeks… just until my parents arrived in town for a visit.
See, this Master’s would not have been possible without the support of my parents, Phil and Nancy Engel. On several different levels, that is. One of my earliest memories was my mother walking across the stage to receive her Master’s of Education. My sister, Cathy, and I never really entertained any ideas other than a college education. My Dad is absolutely one of the most intelligent people I know. Yet, he didn’t really have the opportunity to go to college. Thing is, he was smart enough to realize that the more education one has, the greater their chances of success. That foundation was laid early in life and remains today. My parents also were so supportive through my studies as an undergrad and that was even amped up when they knew the Master’s level course load was heavier.
When my parents arrived last Monday and everyone had been served a drink, I retreated to my office to retrieve this big, thick envelope. It was, in fact, my diploma. To be able to unveil it and finally get my hands on it surrounded by family was one of the greatest moments of my life.
In addition to my parents, the other person who must, MUST be acknowledged and thanked is Marvelyne. I seriously couldn’t have gotten through the first semester – much less the entire program – without her. Her practical and emotional support is unwavering. When I’d have breakdowns laden with school stress, she was there to bring me back to reality.
Yes, this diploma has my name on it… but it would not even be a reality if it weren’t for my wife and my parents.
I am very, very lucky.