Keith King was kicked out at age 18 from the religious commune in Pennsylvania where he grew up. He had $150 and no place to go after he defied the elders, telling them he wanted to leave and pursue his dream of becoming a doctor.
Nearly a decade later, King beamed and kissed his pregnant wife Friday after he opened a letter saying he would soon begin practicing as a general surgery resident at Rutgers' Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey after completing four years at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
"This is perfect for us," said King, adding that it was a relief to be able to begin the next phase of their lives.
Now 27, King was among nearly 16,400 medical students around the country who gathered in auditoriums for the 62-year-old Match Day program, when students open letters at noon telling them which residency program accepted them. At the University of Maryland, 164 students opened letters at the Hippodrome Theatre; across town, 124 Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine students celebrated in an atrium at the East Baltimore campus.
They included people like Kimberley Lee, a Hopkins student who is the first in her family to go to college, and Debra Ravert, a University of Maryland student who gave birth to twins during her last year of school.
The Match Day tradition was designed as a fair way to assign students to residencies, where they will further their training for the next three to seven years.
Seniors choose specialties, such as internal medicine or general surgery, and interview at programs where they would like to train. The programs make their choice and a computer then matches programs with applicants after evaluating the preferences of each.
It is an emotional day as students realize four years of hard work have begun to pay off.
"Soon someone will look into your eyes and know you are their doctor," Hopkins assistant dean Dr. Michael Barone told students gathered in the sunlit atrium. "It's a pretty awesome responsibility."
Students at University of Maryland were placed at 73 hospitals in 28 states. They were called on stage one by one in random order to theme music of their choice. Some nervously ripped open their letters on stage and shared their announcement with the audience, while others opened it among family back at their seats.
Ravert sat with her six children, including two sets of twins, in a row at the Hippodrome, her babies in the arms of her mother and husband, as she and her classmates waited to discover their fate.
The 38-year-old's face lit up as she opened her letter on stage to discover she is staying in Baltimore at Johns Hopkins Hospital, where she will practice emergency medicine. She won't have to worry about relocating her large family.
"It's awesome," she said. "I don't have to sell my crappy house, and I get to practice at such a great institution."
Around the same time, students at Hopkins opened their letters all at once.
Lee clutched her open letter and her boyfriend, Eric Warner, as tears welled up in her eyes. Standing in the back of the standing-room-only atrium of the Armstrong Medical Education Building, she called her mother to tell her she was among the 42 students who would be staying in the Hopkins medical system — her first choice.
A native of Kingston, Jamaica, Lee was the first in her family to go to college. With eight years done, she'll head to Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center for a three-year residency in internal medicine. Then, she said, she'll apply for a fellowship in oncology.
Lee, 26, said her parents, a teacher and a handyman, expected her and her younger sister to go to college, but no one was sure how they'd do it. Only Lee was sure where.
Hopkins became Lee's goal at age 13 when she read renowned neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson's book "Gifted Hands" about his journey from inner-city Detroit to director of pediatric neurosurgery at age 33 at Hopkins.
"It was the dream," she said of Hopkins, which her family had never heard of. They initially wanted her to go to Harvard, where she also was accepted for medical school.
Still, she said, "I had no idea how I'd get to the States to get to college or anything like that. It was a childish dream almost. Fortunately, everything worked out."