Follow Your Bliss
Alumnus reflects on his time as a student and how SU shaped his life.
March 17, 2023
March 17, 2023
It was never a question where David Watts ’62 would go to college. His mother and father met at Southwestern while they were students, and after a stint in Chicago, his parents returned to Southwestern so his father could teach in the religion and philosophy department while his mother taught piano. Southwestern was and remains in his DNA.
Growing up, Watts discovered his passion for music, playing first-chair French horn in the all-state band while in high school. It was his love of music that gave him his acceptance into the University with a scholarship. Like many students before and after him, Southwestern sparked Watts’ love of lifelong learning. As a student, he found new interests in science, philosophy, and poetry. So when it came time to start thinking about a career, he decided pursuing science and medicine would be more dependable than pursuing music.
“I can play music on the side all my life, but I wanted a career that involves science and dealing with people. So I thought, ‘okay, that’s medicine,’” Watts remarked. “Nobody had been in medicine in my family, but it looked like the right thing for me. It’s been a blessing ever since.”
Southwestern opened the door for exploration, including becoming the student body president, participating in the theater organization Mask & Wig, and inviting lecturers to speak at what was then called the student union. The ability to pursue any interest had a profound impact on Watts’ life. He said that while your studies tend to silo you into a niche, a liberal arts education propels you to self-discovery through many avenues.
“Southwestern gives you the opportunity to do different things, and it’s very important to take advantage of that because you need to be well-rounded,” Watts said.
As a practicing physician and medical lecturer at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center, Watts has incorporated Southwestern’s philosophy of Paideia into his work. Medicine is a vehicle for his scientific background, while his love of connecting and engaging with people allows him to act as a counselor to his patients. He says that in his career, he’s attempted to combine the logical side of his brain with the imaginative side.
Most people would have been satisfied with life as a doctor and a medical lecturer at a world-renowned university. However, Watts wanted more. He’s worked in television, owned his own production company, and in his own words, had a mid-life crisis that led him to poetry for solace, which turned into a commentary job at NPR. Then, he began writing short stories that Random House published, and eventually, those stories led to novels, 12 to be exact. Watts has worn many different hats throughout his life, from doctor to poet to musician to, more recently, podcaster. He says his new show, A Buckaroo State of Mind, funnels all his interests into a single platform.
The podcast has a western hook to it because Watts knows Texas. He spent his teenage years riding a horse every day, he learned how to shoot, and, more importantly, he knows how Texans speak and think. Thus, the name of his podcast. The structure of the show begins with a story told by Watts. Then, a comedian does cowboy comedy, followed by cowboy poetry, and closes with country western music. It all ties back to his adolescence in Georgetown which shaped his life.
When thinking about current Southwestern students, Watts has one piece of advice for them: “follow your bliss.” Watts’ bliss has led to a life full of rich experiences and, most notably, contentment. He says an important lesson he learned in school is that the best life is the examined life. If you go through life thinking about what you’re doing, what’s happening to you, how you feel about that, and if that has meaning you can incorporate and learn from, you’ll deepen yourself. And that leads to contentment.
“Looking back, I would say I’m very content. I wouldn’t change a thing, even though there were some rough times. The high points were fabulous, and even rough times add to one’s understanding,” Watts reflects. “Southwestern was great for me, and it gave me a super start in the world. I am always grateful for the privilege of being here.”