The MAVERICK Speaker Series is honored to host visionaries and trailblazers who, like Senator McCain (P'03, '04, '07, '10, G'10), have blazed their own trails in the world.
Just as Senator McCain led with integrity and an independent spirit, PCDS stands as a beacon of educational excellence among independent schools in Arizona and beyond. PCDS shares the late Senator's devotion to nurturing character-driven leaders of tomorrow who will work collaboratively, especially with those who think differently, in order to achieve true progress in their chosen field.
Through the MAVERICK Speaker Series, Phoenix Country Day School is honored to welcome visionaries who — in various fields and ways — are following in the late Senator's footsteps by making history, just as we aspire for our own graduates to make a positive impact on the world around them.
2022 MAVERICK Speaker
On February 16, Phoenix Country Day School continued the tradition of the MAVERICK Speaker Series. The 2022 MAVERICK speaker was Dr. Harvey J. Alter. The 2020 Nobel Prize Recipient in Medicine, Dr. Alter is a Senior Scholar at the NIH Clinical Center’s Department of Transfusion Medicine.
Before the evening all-community event, Dr. Alter spent time sharing his career journey - and his wonderful sense of humor - with the entire PCDS Upper School. He spoke about the twists and turns of his career path, times he had to shift his perspective, the process through which he discovered the hepatitis C virus, and the role he played in eliminating transmission of the virus through blood transfusions.
Later that evening, in front of hundreds of PCDS community members – including students, parents, grandparents, faculty, alumni, and special guests – Dr. Alter was welcomed by Claire Merkel representing the McCain family. The parent of two PCDS alumni, Mrs. Merkel is the Senior Director of the Arizona Programs for the McCain Institute for International Leadership at ASU. Before delivering greetings from the McCain family, she said, “Senator McCain lived every day of his life to the fullest, and many times on the edge; the edge is where discoveries are made, in medicine and elsewhere.” Following Mrs. Merkel’s updates and congratulations from the McCain family, PCDS Head of School and Gay Firestone Wray Chair of Leadership Andrew M. Rodin launched a conversation with Dr. Alter. The conversation between Dr. Alter and Mr. Rodin was made even more engaging due to their special relationship; Mr. Rodin is Dr. Alter’s son-in-law, and Dr. Alter is a proud PCDS grandfather of Quincy ’25, Jake ’19, and Ty ’19 Rodin.
With humility and humor, Dr. Alter spoke about his decades of work at the National Institutes of Health and the process through which he made his Nobel Prize-winning discovery, saying, “I always worried I wouldn’t know what to do next. But what to do next just becomes obvious when you keep moving forward. I told the students today, ‘There is no elevator to success – you have to take the stairs.’ And really, discovery is a step by step process.” He also spoke about the value of collaboration, saying, “Nobody does research by themselves, you need good people around you, and I was lucky to be around a good team for a long time, sharing ideas, sharing resources.” Dr. Alter commented that life sometimes calls for a change in plans; as a young adult, he was on a path to be a clinical medical practitioner, but life circumstances changed his path to medical research – a change that ultimately had a significant impact on the medical field. Other topics covered included the behavior of viruses, the role of mRNA vaccines, and his colleague Dr. Anthony Fauci. When asked what issues he believes should be addressed more fully over the next several decades, he spoke passionately about combating viruses, cancer, and climate change.
Regarding winning the prestigious Prize, the audience loved Dr. Alter’s recounting of the phone call he received at 4:15 a.m. from Stockholm, informing him that he had won the Nobel Prize. To wrap up the evening, Dr. Alter recited a delightfully touching poem he wrote upon receiving the Prize titled, “I Never Had No Nobel Dreams” that concluded with “...though the leaves of my life age will soon rake up, I’m happy to be where I am because in life, there’s no make-up. From this Nobel dream, I’m afraid to wake up.”