Dr. Karen Morris-Priester will be York College’s commencement speaker Wednesday.
Dr. Karen Morris-Priester will be York College's commencement speaker Wednesday.

The York College alumna who was the first grandmother to graduate from the Yale School of Medicine will serve as the keynote speaker at York's winter commencement Wednesday.

Dr. Karen Morris-Priester, now an anesthesiologist at Coordinated Health in Allentown, will address the crowd of nearly 300 graduates and their families during the ceremony.

Morris-Priester said she has had other motivational speaking opportunities, but many of those were to college students at the beginning or middle of their college experience. She said she hopes to encourage the graduates on in their careers, and to look for blessings in failures, even as they might have already appeared to "reach" their dreams by graduating.

"Even though they may appear to be a success to other people, there's always more ahead," Morris-Priester said.

Morris-Priester overcame many obstacles to become a doctor: She put early dreams of working in the medical field on hold when she became a teenage mother at 16, got married and had four other children. She later went to school at HACC to earn her associate's degree as a nurse, while working full-time as a single mother.

Morris-Priester then found her way to York College, and eventually on to Yale and an anesthesiology residency in a Harvard-affiliated program.

The doctor said her success comes from the support and example of others around her and an internal compass that, despite all appearances and set-backs, drove her forward.

But Morris-Priester said she has faced other challenges since graduating from Yale, a part of her story she hopes will be another source of encouragement for the graduates listening on Wednesday.

The doctor failed her first board certification following her residency, the first major test she'd ever failed that she called a "crushing defeat."

But instead of covering it up, Morris-Priester owned up to the fact to those who asked and set forth to pass the exam the following year, which she did.

"There are always obstacles and things you're going to have to come to terms with," Morris-Priester said. "It's never too late to learn from a failure."

The commencement ceremony will begin at 10:15 a.m. Wednesday at the Grumbacher Sport & Fitness Center.

- Reach Nikelle Snader at nsnader@yorkdispatch.com.