2017: The first F. Clarke Fraser Award for Excellence in Mentorship and Teaching was awarded to: CHARLES R. SCRIVER
Here is the text of Dr. Scriver's acceptance speech from April 30, 2017.
I begin by expressing my thanks to the College for the recognition it is giving, and will be giving, with this newly created Award for Excellence in Mentorship and Teaching. A mentor has someone to mentor and a teacher has a student to teach. The interactions between them are influenced by both the transmitter and the receiver. At this moment, you and I are surrounded by these interactions and examples of excellence. May it always be the case.
This is the right moment to thank you, Clarke Fraser, wherever you are, for the transforming influence you have had on me during our years of working together. You are a great example of the mentor in the teacher; today we are celebrating those qualities.
In its daily business, the College (CCMG) deals with heredity or if you prefer, with genetics, at work in human populations. CCMG, the host of today’s occasion, is an agency that fosters learning about genetics; among its other activities, it monitors relationships between society and our use of genetic technologies. Heredity is a complex and subtle concept and there are many ways to describe it. Thomas Hardy, an English poet of the late Victorian era, noticed that heredity was expressed in the human face; a perception that he translated into a few memorable lines of poetry.
I am the family face:
flesh perishes, I live on,
projecting trait and trace
through times anon,
and leaping from place to place
Whereas Hardy’s view of heredity in action has a certain dignity, for Philip Larkin, an English poet of the mid-20th century, there was little dignity in our heredity:
They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
and add some extra, just for you.
A rather gloomy outlook – so what is to be done?
CCMG is an agency, it deals with a particular class of knowledge, knowledge that is of two types: one transforming, the other translational. We think of it as knowledge, but what we are dealing with most of the time, is information about processes that serve the mysteries of genetics, using tools and concepts such as the double helix molecule, chromosomes, gene maps, clones, epigenetic phenomena, and recently of course, editing processes that change DNA molecules and their molecular messages. It is not hard to imagine that we could have deep ethical concerns about what we should do with such tools as they become available; concerns implying that we might be losing our way in the forest of genetics. Not surprising then that relevant inquiries and procedures are an important part of CCMG’s concerns and initiatives to agendas.
Emmanuel Kant, the 18th century philosopher, framed these concerns in a pair of questions:
WHAT CAN I KNOW? ..... And with that knowledge,
WHAT OUGHT I DO?
The questions invite us to pursue and evaluate our continuing education and self-inquiry in matters of biology and genetics. Nor is society, when referring to the public, shy to look at these new parameters of information, and knowledge, nor to critique them as they appear in the media and press as found, for example, in a recent issue of The Economist (Feb. 18, 2017) where there is extensive discussion about the science of sex in ways that are new. William Bateson, scientist and contemporary of Hardy, believed that an exact determination of the laws of heredity would probably do more to change our outlook on the world and to affect our power over nature, than any other advance in natural knowledge that could be foreseen at the time. How prophetic Bateson was!
We believe that the information and knowledge acquired in the domain of human genetics will serve some of our needs. With that information, accompanied by wisdom, we hope, it is then natural to ask: WHO DO I SERVE? and HOW DO I SERVE? Medical genetics, as a constantly growing and encompassing endeavour with ever-greater relevance in our lives, is creating corresponding challenges in ethics, education and training.
Accordingly there is need for process and policy that will acquire this knowledge and put it into effect where it can serve individuals, families and communities. Perhaps an ultimate role of CCMG is to foster the ethics of making healthy babies, thereby making their otherwise infertile parents happy. The message here seems to be a call for wise mentorship, and teaching. TS Eliot, yet another poet, and subtle thinker, put it this way:
We shall not cease from exploration
and the end of all of our exploring
will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
As I stand here and look at you, my listeners, I am struck by the realization that in my work, I can love all of you, that a smile creates a moment of welcome, that we are not alien to one another, even if we are apparent strangers. As expressed by Thomas Merton, it is like waking from a dream of separateness. I have immense joy in being human, and my own sorrows and stupidities need not overwhelm me. I realize now who we are or could be, and if only everybody could recognize this, we would each realize that we are all, teachers, mentors and students, walking around, shining like the sun.