Lifelong Learner; Good. Perpetual Student; Better — a Lesson in Learning from Dr. Anthony Fauci

“I have read 2 Harvard senior theses this year – yours and Jenny’s – and I have learned from Perpetual studentboth.  This actually get to a theme that I often weave weave commencement addresses; that is the concept of a “perpetual student.”  I continually learn, even from people like yourself and Jenny who are much younger than I.  Please keep that in mind as you progress in age and experience.”  Tony
Dr. Anthony Fauci, in correspondence with a young medical student who had requested an interview with Dr. Fauci for his undergraduate thesis. The young man is now Dr. Luke Messac, MD, PhD, physician-historian, emergency medicine resident at Brown University. (emphasis added)

Here is the tweet from the young Doctor (@LukeMessac):
13 years ago, I emailed Dr. Fauci out of the blue to ask if I might interview him for my undergrad thesis. He invited me to his office, where he answered all my questions. When I sent him the thesis, HE READ THE WHOLE THING. Who does that?!

And an excerpt from Dr. Anthony Fauci’s, Commencement Address, The Ohio State University, 2016
“The scope of what you have learned here at Ohio State and importantly what you will need to learn after you leave here is like a giant mosaic, and this mosaic of your knowledge and experiences is eternally unfinished, as it should be. You will realize that you will never know as much as you want to or need to know, and you will find that you are participating in a dynamic process with a steep learning curve.”

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We seem to use the phrase “life-long learner” with great frequency.  It is a good phrase.  It reminds us that we all have much to learn, and we will spend a lifetime learning new things.

But, this from Dr. Fauci adds a dimension that is significant.

Learning is something you can do kind of passively.  You see something, you hear something, you observe something, you learn something.

Whereas “perpetual student” puts the onus on you.  There is nothing passive about this pursuit.  You are seeking out new knowledge, new ways of thinking.  You are seeking out new things to learn.  You are a student; a perpetual student.  You study things because you are a student.  That is what you do; that is who you are.

Here’s the spectrum:

If you are a lifelong learner, good for you.
If you are a perpetual student, better yet.
And if you are neither, well…you’ve got some soul searching to do.

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