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Doctor indebted to teachers at RPS 205, Guilford

Even in a classroom of exceptional students, even as a first-grader, Dr. Zachary Morris stood out.

Before he was a Rhodes Scholar, before he went to Harvard Medical School, before he reached his goal of being a physician-scientist, Morris was a student in the gifted program at Beyer Elementary School in the Rockford Public Schools. His first-grade teacher, Jannice Bubnack, said he was one of those students who never hesitated to ask a question if he didn’t understand a concept.

“He was just a hard worker,” Bubnack said. “You could tell in first grade he wasn’t going to settle. He worked until he got it.”

Dr. Zach Morris-Guilford 1998 BAugie Toldo, his baseball coach at Guilford High School, remembered the same drive in Morris, who graduated as Guilford’s valedictorian in 1998. Toldo also recalled Morris’ leadership, on and off the field. “He had that quality—when he said stuff, other kids would listen.”

Morris also excelled in academics and athletics at Ripon College, where he majored in chemistry and biology and graduated summa cum laude (with highest honors).  After receiving a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship to study in England, he earned two masters degrees from Oxford University. He then studied at Harvard, where he earned his medical degree as well as a PhD. After that came two medical residencies: one in internal medicine at the University of Hawaii and one in oncology at the University of Wisconsin. He is now an assistant professor in the Department of Human Oncology at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

In that role, Morris sees patients at the UW Carbone Cancer Center and runs a cancer research lab, where he explores novel treatment approaches with the ultimate goal of discovering cures. 

In 2015, Morris returned to Guilford to address inductees of the school’s National Honor Society. For all his aptitude for science—with its reliance on logic and reason–he advised students to make big decisions with their heart.

“As you pursue goals, don’t put on blinders,” Morris told the students. “Nurture your relationships and family so that when you reach a mountaintop, you don’t find yourself alone and wanting to come back down.”

Morris knows he didn’t achieve his dream of being a physician-scientist alone. He remembers every teacher and coach in the district who impacted his life. Those people taught him lessons about hard work, persistence, mental toughness and overcoming adversity.

“I can never really pay back the many wonderful teachers from Rockford who shaped my education but I do hope to carry on in their tradition,” he said.

Mary Kaull is strategic communications coordinator for the Rockford Public Schools. Click here to subscribe to this blog. Also, please like RPS 205 on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram.

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2 Comments

  1. Colleen Holmbeck

    There must be more greatly talented and committed graduates of our “public” schools that few of us know about . Mary, you’ve made a great start in identifying them.

    Colleen Holmbeck

  2. Colleen Holmbeck

    There must be more greatly talented and committed graduates of our “public” schools that few of us know about. You’ve made a great start! Colleen

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