Bridging local and global communities

The first annual Lauren Zeitels Memorial Lecture brought a network of Gates alumni together for an alumni weekend in Boston to pay homage to Lauren's inspiring legacy.

My life has been forever changed from having known Lauren, and it’s helped me become a more full person.

Dr Sarah Hemminger

The inaugural Lauren Zeitels Memorial Lecture celebrated the life and legacy of an inspiring Gates Cambridge alumna and aimed to encourage her peers to continue to work towards improving the lives of others.

The lecture took place on 2nd June at the Paul S. Russell, MD Museum of Medical History and Innovation at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) in Boston, MA, USA. 

Lauren's life tragically ended in an avalanche in March 2017. Lauren’s family, friends, colleagues and mentors were joined at the lecture by Gates Cambridge alumni spanning more than a decade of Gates Scholars. Among those who spoke at the lecture were Gates Cambridge Provost Professor Barry Everitt, MGH Physician-in-Chief Dr Katrina Armstrong, Co-Founder and CEO of Thread Dr Sarah Hemminger, Gates Cambridge Alumni Association Co-Chair Dr Rebecca Saunderson and Lauren’s father Dr Jerrold Zeitels.

Professor Everitt commenced the lecture with a brief overview of Lauren’s time as a Gates Cambridge Scholar. "Gates Cambridge Scholars are selected on the basis of three criteria: academic excellence, the capacity for leadership in whatever domain that can be expressed, and a commitment to improving the lives of others, and it seems to me that Lauren was the very embodiment of those qualities,” he said.

Dr Armstrong’s lecture detailed the Pathways Service which was founded by Lauren and her co-resident Victor Fedorov, who also passed away in the avalanche. Residents in this programme utilise a combination of innovative clinical and laboratory tools to diagnose and treat some of the hospital’s most complex patients. 

Dr Hemminger spoke on Lauren’s involvement in Thread, a non-profit that creates support networks for underperforming teenagers in Baltimore who face significant barriers outside of the classroom. Lauren was heavily involved with Thread during her MD/PhD programme at Johns Hopkins and made a profound impact on the lives of the youngpeople she mentored, her fellow volunteers and Dr Hemminger herself.

“My life has been forever changed from having known Lauren, and it’s helped me become a more full person,” Dr Hemminger stated. “I’m more comfortable in my own skin and confident in who I am, and that confidence led to me deciding not to take that job at the NIH. And that decision has led to Thread being a community of 2,000 people who transcend all kinds of lines of difference and come together in the most unique ways. That wouldn’t have happened without Lauren,” she said.

Dr Saunderson [2012], who had co-chaired the GCAA board alongside Lauren and who considered Lauren a close friend, praised Lauren’s tireless dedication to serving others and challenged attendees to live in honour of that memory.

In closing, Dr Saunderson remarked: “What this lecture means is that the legacy of Lauren will live on. That we not only celebrate her life, but we continue to execute her vision of the organisation. That through commemorating her, we connect alumni, and in doing so, we have the chance to do something that can improve the lives of others.”

Finally, Lauren’s father, Dr Jerrold Zeitels thanked the speakers and the community for coming together to celebrate Lauren’s life and lasting impact.

Beyond the Memorial Lecture, GCAA-organised events over the weekend served to introduce Gates alumni from different cohorts to one another and to celebrate the achievements emerging from the alumni community. 

The weekend began with welcome drinks at the home of British Consul General, Harriet Cross, who hosted and met with Gates alumni. Other events included a panel led by Todd Tucker [2012] that discussed some of the issues covered in Todd’s newly released book Judge Knot: Politics and Development in International Investment Law.

*Picture and words: Alex Kong.