When Getrude Makurumidze walks onto the stage and receives her diploma from Bryn Mawr College on Saturday, May 14, she will be cheered on by many – Dr. Mary Ann Cohen, the Bryn Mawr alumna (class of 1962) award-winning psychiatrist and leader in AIDS psychiatry who has served as her mentor; David and Lanie Wolovitz, who served as her host family in America; her classmates; and the rest of the campus community.
Getrude had hoped that some of her aunts and uncles from her home country of Zimbabwe would join her, but they were unable to make the expensive trip. She will be joined by her great aunt, Placida Shumba, who is coming from West Virginia.
And even though Getrude’s mother, father, and sister all passed away from AIDS within months of each other when she was only eight, they will be there as well, she says.
“I'd like to think that they’ll be watching me graduate and be proud of what I’ve accomplished,” says the soft-spoken Getrude, who credits her Christian faith and her extended family of relatives and others for what she’s been able to accomplish.
Born and initially raised in the mining town of Kwekwe, Getrude has lived with aunts and uncles since her parents and new-born sister died as part of a wave of AIDS-related deaths. Getrude’s father was a teacher and her mother a nurse, and education has always been important to her entire family.
“I moved from one family to the next depending on who was able to take care of me, but they all sacrificed to allow me to get educated,” says Getrude.
Getrude excelled in school. During her senior year in high school, she was one of the only 32 out of 1,000 applicants (from Zimbabwe) who were picked to participate in the United States Student Achievers Program, which led to her attending Bryn Mawr.
At Bryn Mawr, she has majored in Biology with an eye toward medical school.
In her freshman year, Getrude interned at the Drexel University College of Medicine and got to participate in HIV and AIDS research. As a sophomore she interned at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, where she worked in integrative oncology. Her final internship was at Massachusetts General Hospital, where she worked in global psychiatry. In addition, Getrude spent a semester in Denmark, where she was part of the Medical Practice and Policy track at the Danish Institute for Study Abroad.
This year, Getrude was selected as a finalist for the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship by the Zimbabwe Rhodes Committee. After graduation, she will be working at the New York State Department of Health’s AIDS Institute as she prepares to enter medical school.
In New York, Getrude will continue to be mentored by Cohen, who is the co-editor of the Comprehensive Textbook of AIDS Psychiatry and two years ago invited Getrude to write the chapter on AIDS orphans and other vulnerable children for the book’s second edition.
Introduced to each other just before Getrude entered her freshman year, the pair have developed a special bond.
“Getrude is an exceptional young woman who has been able to deal with the multiple losses, displacements, and traumas of her childhood in ways that seem to define resilience,” says Cohen. “I have mentored hundreds of excellent students and trainees over the decades of my career and Getrude is clearly the most impressive of them all.”
At the AIDS Institute, Getrude will be working on a collaborative project between the New York State Department of Health and the Ministry of Health in Zimbabwe and will periodically travel back and forth between the two countries.
“In the future, I hope to develop a global oriented practice that would allow me to conduct HIV research and maintain a clinical practice in psychiatry,” says Getrude. “My goals include the development of institutions in Zimbabwe and abroad that provide comprehensive care for children affected by and infected with HIV. Diseases like AIDS are a global problem and require global collaborations and solutions.”