That can certainly be said of Patricia Pratt, who recently won a prestigious 2000 Service Award from the Association of American Medical Colleges for her work in the recruitment and retention of students in the School of Medicine. Pratt, the director of Academic Enrichment and Outreach for the school, cites the hardships of her childhood as the impetus for giving her the skills for her current job.
When she was very young, Pratt's parents divorced, causing her to leave the private University of Chicago Laboratory School and enter a public school.
"The problem was that the school was not well-integrated," recalled Pratt, who was stoned and called "nigger."
Then Pratt's grandfather - with whom she and her family had been living - died, forcing them to move into the projects. Pratt found herself in a public school where she had read more than her English teacher.
Finally, Pratt's mother moved her two children to a northern suburb of Chicago, where she enrolled her daughter in one of the best schools in the country, New Trier Township High School.
"I was in an environment where I felt everything was possible, and I saw how important that was to young people," she said.
When Pratt took over the directorship of Academic Enrichment and Outreach in 1989, her charge was to recruit minority students in medicine and to retain those who were already enrolled to make sure they would graduate and enter the medical field. She continued those services, but expanded them to include all students in the school. The office also reaches out to students in Los Angeles and beyond through four structured programs involving students from the sixth grade through undergraduate level.
"I was blessed with knowing my great-grandmother, who was an emancipated slave," Pratt said. "She always said, it doesn't matter how high you get, you can always reach back and help someone else. And I took that to heart."