‘Forget to be perfect,’ stellar grad suggests
By Clint Talbott
Anita Lowe doesn’t think of her grade-point average when she surveys her studies at the University of Colorado, but she does think about what she’s learned.
“I don’t think of how I’m seen, but I do think of what I’ve seen.”
She’s seen a lot. While in working toward her degree in integrative physiology, she taught English to middle-school students in China’s Henan Province, did a medical internship in Costa Rica (where she communicated completely in Spanish), volunteered to do earthquake disaster relief in Peru, studied in Italy and became conversant in Italian. She has served on a host of student groups, studied African dance, does salsa for fun and dabbles in impressionistic painting.
Along the way, she completed an honors’ thesis, graduated summa cum laude and was named the spring 2011 outstanding graduate of the College of Arts and Sciences.
“She is clearly one of our best citizens,” David E. Sherwood, associate professor of integrative physiology writes.
Her honors’ thesis probed the mechanisms of life-extending regimens. Specifically, she researched the degree of genetic overlap between dietary restriction and hormesis, which is a low-level stress that can extend an organism’s life. The classic example of hormesis is exercise.
A thorough understanding of dietary restriction and hormesis could, Lowe notes, lead to life-extending drugs that mimic their effects. If the genetic pathways of dietary restriction and hormesis significantly overlapped, scientists would be better able to understand the phenomena and tailor fountain-of-longevity drugs.
As it happens, Lowe found evidence of separate genetic pathways instead of significantly overlapping ones. Lowe is unfazed.
“I was hoping for fewer negative results,” she says. But in the process of making one inquiry, she found reasons to pursue another (involving the possible requirement of mitochondrial ribosomal function in heat-induced hormesis).
“My most interesting results had little to do with my original thesis,” she notes, adding, “That’s one of the joys of science.”
Sherwood said Lowe reported her results in a “sparkling presentation” delivered “with poise, modesty and command of detail, making clear not only what she had learned but also that she understood the limits of what she had learned.”
While clearly energized by the joys of science, Lowe is fully engaged in other aspects of life. She’s working as a researcher this summer and plans to take some time off before pursuing an advanced degree.
Ultimately, she will probably become a physician and would like to work with Doctors Without Borders, which won the Nobel Peace Prize for its worldwide efforts to bring quality medical care to people in crisis regardless of their race, religion, or political affiliation.
“I really do want to help people,” Lowe says. She became interested in Doctors Without Borders after reading “Mountains Beyond Mountains,” a book about one physician’s sustained effort to address the “steep gradient of inequality” in health care for the desperately poor.
While she has been inspired by great and selfless acts of humanitarianism, Lowe dispassionately assesses the human condition.
As she told fellow honors’ graduates at their convocation ceremony: “I personally spent a long time convincing myself that I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life. Then I spent a long time unconvincing myself that I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life. Now, I’m just comfortable with the uncertainty, because doing is separate from being. And what I do is not who I am. And so remember that, too: that what we do should not define who we are.”
“Remember that your potential is limitless and that you choose where it is directed,” she continued. “Remember, too, that with great potential comes great expectation, and then try to forget that. I would guess that everyone in this room has felt the pressure of expectation, for we all have climbed high. So make sure to climb for the right reasons, and make sure to enjoy the view along the way.”
While graduation is a time to remember, she added, it is also a time to forget.
“Forget to be perfect,” she said. “Forget to try, because it is others’ imperfections that we fall in love with.”
“Forget worry. Forget doubt. Forget that we were never supposed to make mistakes. We were, and we are.”