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Keynote speaker Michael Cowgill shared a family story that illustrated the importance of education as he spoke Friday during the annual Convocation and White Coat Ceremony for the Western University of Health Sciences, College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific-NW (COMP-NW).

The event was held at the Lebanon First Assembly of God.

Cowgill's great-great-grandfather, J.K. Weatherford, was born in Putnam County, Missouri, in 1850. Weatherford was just 6 years old when his father died, and his mother passed when he was 12. At the same time, Missouri was becoming a dangerous place as partisans of the Union and the Confederate states battled each other throughout the state.

"A family friend came to him and said, 'Son, you need to get out of here. There's a wagon train leaving tomorrow, you need to be on that train and get to the Willamette Valley,'" Cowgill said.

Upon his arrival in Oregon in the summer of 1863, Weatherford found employment at a mill in Brownsville. After that mill burned down in 1865, he survived by working odd jobs for a few years. That might have set the pattern for his life, except for an opportunity that arose in Corvallis.

"His life turned and it turned because of education," Cowgill said. "When Oregon Agricultural College opened in 1868 in Corvallis, he enrolled."

Weatherford lived in a shack he built near the campus and he survived by doing agricultural work, graduating in 1872. He became a teacher and later served as the Linn County schools superintendent.

While he was teaching, he developed an interest in the law. A mentor helped him with his studies and he became a lawyer in 1875. He founded the Albany firm which is now Weatherford Thompson and is in its 144th year. Cowgill is a partner, and his son, attorney Scott Cowgill, is the fifth generation of the family to serve.

"J.K. inspires me. Education changed the course of his life and it impacted succeeding generations," said Cowgill, who is the founding chair of the  WesternU COMP-Northwest Dean’s Advisory Board. "Study hard. Go forth. Change the world."

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This is the ninth annual Convocation and White Coat Ceremony at COMP-NW. It marks the official beginning of medical school for the 107 students who were admitted to the school as the class of 2023. Forty-seven of the students are from Oregon and 72 are from the Pacific Northwest.

Among those students who are staying close to home for medical school is East Linn Christian Academy graduate Adrienne Koos. She completed her bachelor's degree at Western Oregon University, majoring in biology with a minor in chemistry. 

For Koos, the decision to become a physician was made in high school.

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"It was really late in high school realizing that I wanted to push myself academically as far as I could but also to apply those skills that I had directly to help people in their time of need. So naturally, I chose to be a doctor," she said.

While her plan may change over the next four years, Koos is interested in emergency medicine.

"I feel like it's a way to directly impact the community in their biggest times of need," Koos said.

Koos said the ceremony was reassuring and made her feel welcomed in her new environment.

Dr. Richard Bond, chairman of the COMP-NW Board of Trustees, attempted to provide that reassurance during his remarks to the incoming class.

"If you didn't have the right stuff, you wouldn't be here. You were chosen carefully, as carefully as you have chosen us. Everyone here has a stake in your future success. ... Let's get to work," he said.

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