Published on March 7, 2018 by Sarah Waller  
Vanessa Gray

Samford University McWhorter School of Pharmacy alumna Vanessa Gray, ’91, recently returned to her alma mater to speak to student members of Samford’s Student National Pharmaceutical Association (SNPhA) chapter in honor of Black History Month. 

Gray was a member of the school’s first Doctor of Pharmacy cohort, becoming the first African American woman to earn a Pharm.D. at Samford. Recently, Samford honored her as one of the inaugural recipients of the Audrey Gaston Howard award

While she has served in many roles throughout her career, including time as a Samford faculty member, Gray is now the director of pharmacy services at Grandview Medical Center in Birmingham. In her words to students, she challenged them to not accept mediocrity, instead, daring them to be great. 

“Now, I’m not telling you to go around and tell everyone you are great,” Gray said. “No, people will see it. In order to be great, you have to hate mediocrity because with anything you hate, you naturally gravitate away from it.” 

Gray challenged students to figure out what they are passionate about because “when your passion meets purpose, aspiring to become great is easy. When passion meets purpose, your everyday work will not feel like work,” she said. 

Gray shared stories from her childhood, high school and eventually her time at Samford. “I had a great experience here at Samford. Yes, at the time, I was in the minority, but I had mentors who didn’t look like me but saw something in me and took me under their wing… and all of you have that inside of you,” she said. 

At the end, students had the opportunity to ask questions, and many were interested in her role as director of pharmacy services at Grandview, which opened in 2015. 

“We had the opportunity to provide input into what that footprint [of the hospital] would look like. Not many pharmacists in their career can actually say that,” Gray said. “I tell anybody who will listen, as pharmacists, we are the medication experts. No one knows more about medication than we do, so it’s important that we are a part of the process.” 

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.