Renowned author Langston Hughes once asked ‘What happens to a dream deferred?’ For most, that early desire is swallowed up by the realities of life and largely dismissed, because some put an expiration date on dreams.
But Dr. Karen Morris Priester is living proof that dreams can be achieved despite any circumstance. While history has provided us a wealth of impressive Black firsts, Dr. Morris Priester has a fairly unique one. She is first grandmother of any background to graduate from Yale Medical School.
Morris Priester’s delayed dream began when she saw the care given to her ailing grandmother as a child and decided she wanted not just to be the first in her family to graduate from college, but the first to become a doctor. But along the way, she dealt with a daunting series of obstacles – from a teenage pregnancy to her mother’s death, a divorce and even a frightening home invasion. Still, Morris Priester persevered, her dream continuing to drive her even after she had four more children.
Morris Priester first earned her Bachelor’s degree in Nursing as a single mother and while working a full-time job. Her hectic schedule threatened her ambition but with the support of her children, she made a way.
“I literally ran out to my car to take a nap, and had my daughter call me on the cell phone to wake me up,” Morris Priester said in an interview of the short amount of rest she’d steal between classes. “I’d run back in and take another class, leave here about 9 p.m. or so, get home, check all my kids’ homework, get their clothes ready for the next day. Then, when I had all their stuff situated, I could sit down and do my homework. I’d end up going to bed at 1 or 2 a.m. in the morning, turn around and get up at 4 a.m. and do it all over again. So I was going on three or four hours of sleep during the week.”
Eventually, Morris Priester, who remarried, was accepted to Yale Medical School. Two weeks before her graduation, her story was featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Not only did Winfrey highlight her determination, she, along with two corporate sponsors, arranged for all of Morris-Priester’s college debt to be paid off.
Now an anesthesiologist in Allentown, PA, Morris-Priester says that she is most proud that her fortitude and success has inspired others.