For Marquis Peacock ‘13, the reading habit began as a mercenary exercise.
His elementary school in Goldsboro, North Carolina offered a program called Accelerated Reader, with a point system for finishing library books. Points could be exchanged for prizes.
And as Marquis quickly discovered, prizes could be sold.
“For a long time, I didn’t even like to read,” he said. “I’d finish books to earn points, use the points to buy giant sucker pops or boxes of candy, and then sell them to other kids. I made so much money off of that.”
The profit motive drove him to consume stacks of literature. “I ended up loving it, and now I read all the time.”
That bookishness has continued to serve Marquis well. It helped him earn admission to Carolina and become one of the only students from his high school to enroll.
He didn’t think his family could afford UNC — he has three siblings, and his parents both work modest jobs. But he was eligible for the Carolina Covenant, which covers the full cost of attendance through financial aid and work-study.
“I’m so glad for the Covenant,” he said. “Carolina has always been my favorite school.”
Initially interested in exercise and sports science, Marquis took a work-study job at Woolen Gym. But within his first few weeks on campus, a particularly fascinating religious studies class shifted the plan. “I signed up for a course on the rise of early Christianity, and I loved it,” he recalled. “It was all about the early divisions within the church — stuff I’d never heard about before — and it was one of the most interesting classes I’ve ever taken.”
Marquis switched his major to religious studies, taking a series of courses on the history of Christianity, the rise of Islam, and the role of Judaism in society. He did his first research project on religious narratives within African-American slave communities.
UNC also offered the chance to travel abroad, and Marquis didn’t hesitate. The summer after freshman year, he won a competitive scholarship to study in Brunei, Singapore, and India, where he started thinking about the deep disparities between the developed and developing world.
“You fly from Singapore, which is one of the richest places in the world, to India, where there are beggars and slums all over. You go from one extreme to the other.”
The following summer, while traveling by bus across the heartland of the United States, he began to notice a similar divide. “Traveling around America allowed me to see that those disparities exist in this country,” he said. “You see the differences in development and health care.”
Marquis was already interested in medicine as a challenging academic pursuit, but he began to think about it as a way to bridge the divides he witnessed on his summer travels. He turned his focus to community health, with guidance from Carolina Covenant mentor Charles van der Horst, a professor in the School of Medicine and Director of the UNC Center for AIDS Research Developmental Core.
The work was hard — pre-med is known for a tough curriculum — but Marquis was prepared. “I didn’t have any illusions that it would be easy,” he said. “It’s mostly about focus. You just have to put in the time.”
Putting in the time meant rising at 7:00am on weekend mornings to study organic chemistry. “I couldn’t stand the idea of getting a C, so that got me out of bed,” Marquis said.
That kind of drive doesn’t surprise Dr. van der Horst, who has known Marquis since his freshman year. “Marquis is incredibly self-motivated and focused,” he said. “He keeps his eyes on the prize, and that will help him become a wonderful physician.”
For Marquis, that means creating a broad vision of a doctor’s role. Especially in rural communities or distressed urban areas, he sees medicine as a gateway for larger, more lasting influence in people’s lives. He pictures a kind of medical practice that covers everything from cooking demonstrations — “invite people over, show them that healthy food can taste good” — to school mentoring.
“I want to be a fixture in a community,” he said. “Being a doctor gives you the standing to change things, the skill and the authority to help guide people. Not just in medicine, but in education and other things. I want to show people they have options.”
Marquis certainly does. He graduated a semester early, having completed his pre-med track and a degree in religious studies. He weighed acceptance offers from several top-tier medical schools before settling on UNC’s School of Medicine, where he enrolled in the fall of 2014.