Class of '24: Co-Valedictorian ready to care for world as Pre-Med graduate

May 09, 2024
MacKenzie Patterson stands smiling inside of the St. Ignatius Chapel.

Each year, ϲʲͼ’s Marketing & Communications department profiles members of the graduating classes. Students chosen were nominated by staff and faculty for their contributions to the life of the University. Click here for more information about 2024 commencement exercises.

MacKenzie Patterson’s life and what she wanted to do with it was transformed when she was 11 years old.

That was when her mother was diagnosed with cancer. Patterson witnessed first-hand the great care that doctors provided her mom.

Patterson stands outdoors in front of the Student Union and clock tower.Fast-forward to her senior year at ϲʲͼ, and Patterson is on the doorstep of realizing the dream of becoming like the doctor that helped her mom.

Patterson, one of the Class of 2024 Valedictorians, will graduate Saturday with a Biology degree and is preparing for the next step in her educational journey: Medical school.

“I just remember feeling pretty grateful to my mom’s doctor,” Patterson said. “I heard amazing things about her dermatologist and how thorough she was, and the cancer was a really tiny spot. She caught it and took really good care of my mom during the process.

“That’s when I became more interested in medicine and science. I just wanted to become like her and helping patients like my mom and improving overall quality of life.”

Patterson, from a small town outside of Buffalo, N.Y., initially visited the University because of an opportunity to run track and field for the Titans. Before visiting, she was looking at schools close to home and her family but reconsidered after touring UDM.

“Before ϲʲͼ Mercy sent me that email, I had never considered running on a Division I track and field team, but after visiting, it forced me to reconsider my college options and open myself up to new opportunities,” Patterson said. “When I toured here, I liked that it was a small campus, small class sizes, professors know you by name, the track and field scholarship and I had the opportunity to be a Pre-Med student.

“That one visit changed my path, and I may even argue, my life.”

Patterson said ϲʲͼ Mercy became a second home the moment she stepped onto the McNichols Campus as a freshman. She attended an outdoor Mass hosted by University Ministry during her first week at UDM and she’s been involved with the organization since.

“I just instantly felt welcomed by Ministry, I felt like they were going to be the people I would be spending a lot of time with,” Patterson said. “I met my best friend Hannah there, we sang together at Mass, and that’s a friendship that’s going to be part of my life forever. 

“I feel like in a sense Ministry has become my family away from home.”

Patterson immersed herself in a lot of other activities during her time at ϲʲͼ Mercy, too.

In addition to being a track and field student-athlete and involved with University Ministry, Patterson is a member of Gamma Phi Beta, Zeta Nu Chapter and the Alpha Sigma Nu Jesuit Honor Society, as well as the MEDLIFE student organization, which raises money for medicine, education and development projects in underdeveloped countries.

“When I first came here, I didn’t know anybody,” she said. “I feel like the ϲʲͼ Mercy community has really become my home; the people have been amazing to be surrounded by. I’ve had a lot of good experiences.”

While she volunteered at a cancer institute and alongside physicians, nurses and other medical professionals in high school to further her interest in health and medicine, ϲʲͼ Mercy has offered her the opportunity to fully prepare for a life in the medical field through her academics.

MacKenzie Patterson stands indoors next to a poster display.Patterson said that professors such as Michelle Andrzejak, Klaus Friedrich, Greg Grabowski, Jacob Kagey, among others, in the College of Engineering & Science have been integral with their time, support and encouragement.

“Dr. Friedrich met with me almost every day of the week to tutor me, he’d meet with me over Zoom to try and explain something to me,” Patterson said. “I’ve had a lot of amazing professors like that. I feel well-prepared for medical school because the classes are set up in a way where you’re kind of preparing for it.

“The way they teach, it seems synonymous with how med school will be, especially with some of the research assignments they give us to do.”

Beyond the professors, the UDM community impacted Patterson, including Dan Greig and Anna Lawler in Ministry and Si Hendry, S.J., among others.

“There’s been a lot of people here who have believed in me even when I wasn’t sure I could do it, people who have rooted me on throughout my education here,” Patterson said. “There’s a lot of those connections that I’m going to miss when I graduate from here.”

Patterson said she felt the Jesuit and Mercy values and mission throughout her UDM career.

“I liked the individualized care aspect of it,” she said. “It really does show through courses and how staff and faculty conduct themselves, you can tell that our University is really grounded in its mission. We’re trying to actively better our community.”

Patterson started her UDM career during COVID and arrived in ϲʲͼ not knowing anyone on campus. She’ll leave with lasting relationships, a degree that prepared her for the next step in her life and the distinction of being a valedictorian.

“The fact that UDM chooses a valedictorian using a ‘whole person’ concept, not solely on academic achievement, lends to the entire experience I’ve had on campus and the person I’ve been molded to become,” she reflected. “Receiving this privilege is a reminder that anything is possible.” 

From early days Patterson, the oldest of four children who grew up in a military household with her dad being deployed multiple times throughout her childhood, was a caretaker helping with her younger siblings.

Her interest in caretaking was then strengthened by watching the care her mom received and volunteering at a cancer center shortly thereafter.

Now, with a college career full of new experiences and an education preparing her for medical school, Patterson is ready to care for the world at large.

“When I decided to attend ϲʲͼ Mercy, I had no idea if I was making the right decision, but now I know with certainty that I was meant to be at ϲʲͼ Mercy,” she said. “I don’t know if it was luck or fate, but ϲʲͼ Mercy saw something in me that I had not yet seen in myself.

“Looking forward, I can only hope to repay that kindness by going out into the world and showing them what a Titan can give.”

— By Adam Bouton. Follow ϲʲͼ Mercy on , ,  and . Have a story idea? Let us know by submitting your idea.