On September 30, 2011, Dr. James Bower ’80 was presented with the 2011 Distinguished Alumni Award for his many contributions to the field of medicine and for his commitment to service within the global community. In his address to Middle and Senior School students, faculty and alumni, Dr. Bower cited his beginnings at Sewickley Academyas the precursor to his career achievements and the foundation for his commitment to serve those in need around the world. Below are excerpts from his address:
What was special about a Sewickley Academy education?
We were taught to analyze data – not only scientific data or mathematical data – but also literature. We were taught to think critically, not just memorize and repeat back. We were taught to think for ourselves. We were taught to think above the crowd, and to act above the crowd.
SA is an elite institution, and you are receiving an elite education. ‘Elite’ is a hard word. Unfortunately, too often, ‘elite’ is combined with arrogance to produce an elitist, someone who thinks they are better than other people. I didn’t get an elitist education at SA. Instead, SA was able to combine an elite education with a sense of humility. What’s humility? It’s the simple and honest understanding that all human beings are equal in the eyes of God. When you combine an elite education with humility, you get a leader – someone who recognizes the talents they have, so that they can use them in the service of a greater good.
Dr. Bower also touched upon how the application of tolerance and compassion can open up a whole new appreciation for both the amazing opportunities that Sewickley Academy students are given and the striking needs of others around the world.
I remember the first time I went to Ethiopia. There was essentially one full-time neurologist for a country of 70 million. The patients were housed in huge gymnasium-size wards filled with cots. Family members were present to help because there weren’t enough nurses to feed and bathe the patients. Most of the patients at the time had AIDS. I knew that most were going to die. Most did die. It was very depressing.
At the end of the week, I felt a strong sense of hopelessness. Did I really do anything? Help anybody? I was overwhelmed with a sense of futility and was ready to quit. One neurologist begged me to return. He recognized the hopelessness – he lived it every day. He asked me to simply return to teach, to educate the junior doctors and act as a mentor for them. He explained that the fact that I had made the effort to come from America to teach them was very inspiring.
So I did go back, essentially annually, and things started growing from there. Eventually, I recruited a few other colleagues from the Mayo Clinic to go with me. They started to go annually as well. Soon we organized conferences where a dozen or so of us would go over to teach for a week. Then we recruited others – heart, lung, and psychiatry specialists to come. Now they too are going annually. Most important, we helped them create their own residency program – the training program for a neurologist – so they could have their own doctors who can teach the newer younger doctors. In a couple of years, they will have enough neurologists to staff all the medical schools in the country. There will be a specialist in brain and spine disorders teaching all future Ethiopian physicians – a remarkable beginning.
Sewickley Academy is proud of Dr. Bower’s professional accomplishments and his continued commitment to the service of the greater good. His work is an amazing example of how Sewickley Academy’s mission and core values can make a difference in our global community.