After graduating from Whitfield in 2008, Shaun Vaid attended The George Washington University where he double-majored in economics and religion and minored in statistics. In the twelve years since graduation, he has held several roles in the medical field, in both St. Louis and Florida. Additionally, he has flexed his entrepreneurial muscles as an app designer and founder of CommuniCare+, a project that engages patient social circles to enhance chronic disease management. While earning an MBA from Washington University in St. Louis Shaun interned with Google and was offered a full-time finance position, which he accepted. He lives in St. Louis and workes remotely.
Shaun’s brother, Sahil, graduated from Whitfield in 2012.
How did Whitfield prepare you for college and beyond?
Whitfield taught me how to write and communicate well. It also prepared me to think critically and question ideas and concepts I encounter in a positive, constructive way. Specifically, I learned how to disagree in a collegial manner and work with people of diverse perspectives and experiences while showing them respect. I also learned intellectual humility: you need to be open to the idea that there is information out there that can make you question what you currently know and that you need to incorporate into your worldview to help you evolve and develop. My teachers opened my mind to possibilities and pushed me to learn how to research in order to support my ideas with evidence.
A big lesson I learned was about the oft-misunderstood concept of failure. Failing at things at Whitfield allowed me to feel less fearful of failing at things later in life. Consequently, I do not fear failure; I will try anything. I developed the resiliency to revise and try again; this was nurtured, indeed expected, at Whitfield. Two of the most important questions I continually ask myself are these: How do I cultivate innovation and entrepreneurial spirit? Am I trying to find creative ways to solve problems and make things easier for other people? I know now these ideas began at Whitfield.
What are you most thankful for from your Whitfield experience, both in and outside of the classroom?
In the classroom, I became comfortable with the ambiguity of soft deadlines and was empowered to create my own structure to achieve success. In addition, I was given space for intellectual freedom and inquiry in a collaborative environment, which I now recognize as being very much like working in the technology field today.
I had teachers who got to know me and pushed me, never letting me settle, believing in me, telling me I could do better. They knew me. And I don’t think you get this in other environments. One of my favorite teachers always said, “I am not teaching you facts; I am teaching you how to learn.” This has always stayed with me. When I don’t know about something, I naturally ask myself, “How can I figure this out?” I have the humility to say, “I don’t know about this,” and that is okay because I have the confidence to learn.
Beyond the classroom, the people are the best part of this school: the students, the parents, the alumni. These are still connections that live and thrive as I have lifelong relationships with my classmates. We are in each other’s weddings, we travel together, and they are always there for me. They still challenge me; they comfort me. Thanks to Whitfield, my friends also look different than me and I’ve had that diversity of experiences and perspectives since I was 12 years old.
What opportunities did Whitfield provide you that you might not have had elsewhere?
At Whitfield, I could try anything and be anything. For example, I was a varsity basketball player and was taught how to take care of my body because I knew it was good for my brain. I was cast in large roles in spring musicals, and I started two clubs: the Social Justice Club and the Historical Film Society. Engaging in these diverse opportunities were just a much smaller version of what it took to start my own company.
Of the above opportunities, basketball was most important to me. I loved playing basketball and my coach was a huge reason for that. In addition, a friend and star athlete established an expected level of empathy and care that is still seen in the program today. He set the profile of the type of student-athlete we want: one who is compassionate, a true team player, and who cares about their performance both on the court and in the classroom.
One of the biggest lessons I learned through basketball is don’t rely on thinking, rely on reacting. This helps me in my work today. What this means is that the preparation you put into things helps you react versus having to take the time to think when it counts. In short, spend time learning and practicing the little stuff so that you don’t have to think about it in the big moments; you can just react.
What skills do you use in your career that you began forming at Whitfield?
I use my critical thinking, communication, and interpersonal skills every day. Step-by-step, multiple draft writing was important as well, focusing on the big picture and then grammar and punctuation. Also, as a theatre student, doing improv and stage shows forces you to be comfortable in very uncomfortable situations. It builds your emotional intelligence; you can gauge it when it matters because you have practiced doing so.
photo credit: Erin Stubblefield