Signs of SCO’s history are everywhere, if you know where to look. On the eleventh floor, in the lounge area where nervous interviewing students wait for their turn to manifest their destiny, three separate iterations of the school are photographed: two different brick buildings, and one of the tower we all know and love. A few floors down on the eighth floor, there exists a wall triptych detailing some of the individuals driving the growth of the institution and their accomplishments. Lastly, a very recent addition is a mural in the atrium of the new academic complex that depicts the history of Southern College of Optometry, from first foundations to shiny new buildings. Recently, however, a few events have connected the history of the physical building and some of the individuals behind it in quite a unique way for me; essentially, these unrelated encounters have given me a neat look into SCO’s past.
The first of these encounters occurred in Adult Primary Care about a month ago. A 75 year old male presented for an eye exam. He hadn’t had one in fifteen years or so and only came because his wife was undergoing treatment for glaucoma. His vision wasn’t terrible with his current prescription, but we updated his ancient prescription for the better. The rest of the exam was rather unremarkable except for an interesting story that came up in the course of the exam.
You see, my patient was a lifelong Memphian. Actually, growing up, he didn’t live too far from the exam room in which we were. In fact, he used to live near a brick building, an optometry school…Southern College of Optometry. As a child growing up in the 1940s, his mother would take him yearly to SCO so that the optometry students could get practice with pediatric patients. And now here he was, in the winter of his life, still receiving his eyecare from the same institution, just in a different building! How cool is that! I was just one student doctor in a chain of student doctors dating back to the 1940s. Very cool.
The second event happened just a few weeks ago, during Homecoming. As part of that busy weekend, a donor reception was held in the new complex to honor those that had contributed a lot of money to SCO’s future. During that reception, I had the privilege of giving a tour of the new complex to a retired doctor from the class of 1955, and he had some interesting stories to tell. For starters, his brother graduated from SCO in 1948. Thus, his older brother could very well have seen my 75 year old patient! Furthermore, back then they had class in a tin shack. So, if it rained too hard, the lecture would be canceled because you wouldn’t be able to hear anything. If the temperature got too hot, the optometry students melted, and in the winter, they froze. How different from nowadays, in our climate-controlled awesome super-comfortable high-tech auditorium.
But, he told me as we walked through the new labs, it was all worth it. His time at SCO prepared him well for life after graduation. He even taught at SCO for a stint after the tower was built in 1969, but he couldn’t ignore his native Kentucky for very long. He started his own practice there and retired about 15 or 16 years ago. Cognizant of his alma mater’s effect on his life, he decided to give back to the school by contributing to its future and donating money for the new classroom complex.
As he told me all this, waves of pride and gratitude and…awe swept over me. Have you ever really thought about just how many nameless, faceless people indirectly assisted you in your life in some way? Have you ever considered just how many people helped build the institutions in which you belong, and the careers by which you make a life, simply with their hard work and effort? That crowd is certainly as enormous as often as it is unsung.
Yet suddenly, here was a name and face that I could connect to that formerly nameless and faceless crowd. I thanked him for his contributions to the school and all he had done for optometry. After all, it is because of doctors like him that student doctors like myself can look forward to a rewarding career with the scope of practice that we enjoy. Such a thing cannot be taken for granted. Accepting my thanks with a handshake and a smile, he told me that it was now my generation’s turn to carry the banner of optometry for optometry.
And so we shall. The new academic complex is more than new classrooms and labs. It is a gift from the past to the future, and I am so proud to be part of the present, in every sense of the word.