Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

If I have seen farther, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants. 
— Isaac Newton

Often throughout my past year as a Global Health Corps (GHC) fellow in Rwanda, I have thought about the phrase “standing on the shoulders of giants.” I first heard the phrase several years ago at a conference, where a speaker began her presentation with an acknowledgement that her work was built on the discoveries and success of her mentors and all those that came before her. In one of the earliest sessions of Training Institute at Yale University, our fellowship cohort explored this phrase as we thought about where and from whom we find inspiration, guidance, and knowledge.

…I am certain that I have only come this far because I have met and been propelled forward by many inspiring female “giants” along the way.

While I’m still working on defining my career path and I’m not entirely sure what lies ahead, I am certain that I have only come this far because I have met and been propelled forward by many inspiring female “giants” along the way. This Mother’s Day, I want to acknowledge and honor the women who have shared their knowledge, guidance, and inspiration with me over the years. They continue to help me stay courageous and navigate the unknown. And as I move along this journey as a health equity advocate, it is only because they have lent me their shoulders to stand on.

My mom and I (Photo taken by Bailey Adams)

First, to my own mom: you are a dear friend, a ferocious advocate for what you believe in, a pioneer doctor in emergency medicine, and a kind and compassionate listening ear every day. You are my first and best role model, and your shoulders have been holding me up, literally and figuratively, from the moment I was born.

Second, to the many fantastic mentors I found at the National Cancer Institute: you are all brilliant researchers and kind, compassionate, thoughtful mentors, friends and colleagues. You have been role models to me of how to balance all the components of a healthy life, at all stages of a career. My professional path has been paved by you, and my career so far has been built on both your scientific achievements and your mentorship.

Next, to the dynamic women leading Gardens for Health, all my inspiring and caring colleagues, and all the women we partner with: it has been such a joy to work with you this year and see how you bravely take on the challenges of growing this organization. I’ve learned so much from watching you grow a community of people passionate about growing healthy food in beautiful gardens to fight malnutrition. You all remind me to be stay connected to my roots as I’m climbing up all these shoulders.

Finally, to the fantastic women of Global Health Corps, from the women at the helm of the organization to the facilitators at Still Harbor to all my co-fellows around the world: you have all been a source of inspiration and support every day this year. The amazing work you do every day and the challenges you overcome to push the global health equity movement forward remind me why I’m here, and why I joined this movement. I would not be standing here as a GHC fellow today without you and the community you have built together.

May we offer guidance and support and inspiration for those around us, remembering that the world is not a zero-sum game. Many of us would not be who we are, where we are, without each other.

I encourage all of you to think of the giants in your life whose shoulders support you. Think of the people who have inspired and guided you. Think of all those who have paved the way for your own career or shown you a path you didn’t know existed before. Take a minute to remember them and to thank them.

In addition to offering my sincere gratitude and recognition of the giants who came before me, I also offer this intention and hope that you join me: may we all offer our shoulders for others who come after us to stand on. May we offer guidance and support and inspiration for those around us, remembering that the world is not a zero-sum game. Many of us would not be who we are, where we are, without each other.


Maggie Wilson is a 2016–2017 Global Health Corps fellow at Gardens for Health International in Rwanda.

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