During assembly on Wednesday, March 1, Abby McCay '17 described her recent visit with Dr. Regina Benjamin, former U.S. Surgeon General and founder and head of Bayou Clinic (Bayou La Batre, Alabama), which was arranged for Abby as the 2015-2016 recipient of the Newman Prize.
Established in 1992 by Mark Vittert ’65, the award annually gives a member of the junior class the opportunity to meet with a famous American of his/her choice. Its namesake is Eric Newman ’28, who was a student at JBS on opening day in 1923. Interested juniors — this year 62 — submit a brief application, listing the five living Americans with whom they'd like to meet, and are then interviewed by a small panel of alumni, including Andy Newman '62 (Eric's son), Lisa Greenman Kraner '71 and Liberty Vittert '06.
During assembly Andy Newman announced that Jack Case '18 is the 2016-2017 prize recipient.
Abby's prepared remarks and Jack's choices follow.
Good morning! For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Abby McCay and I was last year’s Newman Prize Winner. I’d like to start by saying a huge thank you to all the Mr. Newmans who have made this wonderful award possible. I also want to thank the Newman Prize Board for choosing me and for making my dream a reality as well as Mrs. Swicord for working so hard to arrange my visit.
Dr. Regina Benjamin is a former U.S. Surgeon General, the founder of Bayou La Batre Health Clinic, and a self-proclaimed opponent of mornings. What drew me to Dr. Benjamin in the first place, apart from her amazing work as Surgeon General, was her work with the Bayou Clinic, which is an office that serves its patients regardless of their ability to pay.
In 2005, Hurricane Katrina demolished Dr. Benjamin’s clinic, but instead of giving up or moving away or finding a new calling, she started to work out of a trailer and make house calls. Eventually, she rebuilt the clinic but the day before it was set to reopen, it burned down with all of the papers and medical documents inside. Again, instead of giving up, Dr. Benjamin rebuilt the clinic one more time, and that is the miracle clinic that I visited.
My time with Dr. Benjamin did not actually start in the clinic, but in the restaurant attached to the hotel where I stayed. My flight was super delayed so I didn’t get to the hotel until 9:30. But Dr. Benjamin, the trooper and night owl that she is, still wanted to go to dinner with me as we had planned. I met her in the lobby and was greeted with a hug before we made our way to the restaurant. During dinner, I learned more about Dr. Benjamin’s time as Surgeon General, how that time affected the clinic, and her taste in TV.
As Surgeon General, Dr. Benjamin had to remove her name from every document related to the clinic she had worked so hard to build. Though her name was no longer on the sign outside of the clinic or on the lease for the building, Dr. Benjamin still ran it from behind the scenes.
When I asked her if it was difficult to make the decision to become President Obama’s Surgeon General nominee she shrugged and said, “If the president calls you asking for you to be his Surgeon General, you just don’t say no.”
As I would later come to realize even more, Dr. Benjamin is someone that very much believes that you just gotta do what you gotta do, regardless of difficulty or inconvenience.
After that dinner, I was so excited to see the facility that Dr. Benjamin had worked so hard to create and to which she formally returned to after her time in the Obama administration.
The next morning, I arrived at Bayou La Batre Health Clinic where I was warmly greeted by the front receptionists and brought to a meeting room where I met some of Dr. Benjamin’s colleagues.
When Dr. Benjamin arrived, I was given a tour of the clinic. I saw some of the visiting rooms and a couple of offices. Dr. Benjamin’s motto as Surgeon General and as a health practitioner is “prevention, prevention, prevention.” So, the clinic had a special meeting room dedicated to holding classes on improving health and thus preventing future health issues. There was even a kitchen for when those classes involved cooking. There was also a pathway all around the outside of the clinic that was a quarter of a mile-long which patients were welcome to walk and where Dr. Benjamin frequently joined them. Everything about the clinic was designed to encourage all around good health.
We then went on a driving tour of Bayou La Batre. I saw boats and fish packing plants, but my favorite part was when Dr. Benjamin pointed out a building as one that she wanted to turn into a workout facility. She leaned over to me and said “Oh that’s just one of the projects I think of every couple days.” She takes on a huge project like that every couple of days. I asked Dr. Benjamin how she comes up with these ideas and how she follows through. To which she giggled, shrugged, and said, “You just do."
Those three words embody Dr. Benjamin in every way. Regardless of the obstacles and speed bumps, you just have to act and forge ahead.
After this drive, we went back to the clinic and talked some more. Then, it was time for me to go back to the hotel and get some rest for my very early flight the next morning. Dr. Benjamin was actually on the same flight so I got to spend even more time with her at the airport.
Meeting Dr. Benjamin has been one of the most amazing and rewarding experiences. It is something that I will remember for as long as I live. She has inspired me to pursue my dreams in the same relentless and enthusiastic manner as she does. Determining the five living Americans you would most like to meet is a fun and interesting process. It’s never too late or too early to think about it, because this award isn’t just about meeting a hero, but also thinking about what makes a hero and who you aspire to. I want to thank the board, Mr. Newman and Mr. Abbott, one more time, and I want to say a big thank you to Dr. Benjamin and all the wonderful people who I met in Bayou La Batre. I feel as if I have come out of this experience with a mentor, role model, and friend for life. So now I will get out of the way for the main event. I’m sure you juniors are squirming in your seats right now!! Thank you!
JACK CASE'S CHOICES:
- Car designer Franz con Holzhausen
- Makeup artist Greg Nicotero
- Lush (cosmetics) CEO Mark Constantine
- Movie director M. Night Shyamalan
- Entrepreneur/philanthropist Fam Mirza