Swimming with whales

November 6, in conjunction with the annual American Public Health Association meeting, the Gillings School hosted a reception for alumni and friends at the Georgia Aquarium. I stayed at a hotel close enough to walk and was pleased to meet up with an alumnus along the way.

For the reception, we had booked the Oceans Ballroom, known for its stunning view of the beluga exhibit. Earlier in the day, we learned that a beluga whale was in labor and could deliver at any time. We thought this exciting development would restrict our access to the exhibit but, instead, after our event, the staff offered everyone access to the entire aquarium. That was great! As it happened, we also were able to see the pregnant whale – which was really awesome. I had never been so close to a beluga. Up close, she has the most gorgeous face.

Hundreds of alumni attended the reception, and it was wonderful to talk with them. I especially appreciated their descriptions of faculty members and classes that made a difference in their career trajectories. I also am so grateful for their warmth toward the School and offers to help increase diversity.

We had a poignant conversation with a Master of Public Health alumna now working on a Doctor of Public Health in Puerto Rico. Because of Hurricane Maria, her university was closed until recently, and the area where she lives hasn’t had electricity for 40 days. Several of us had lived through a couple weeks without electricity, but 40 days is not imaginable. We talked about ways we might help. It will be a long haul for Puerto Rico, and it sounds like daily life is rough on the ground. The platitudes in media don’t represent reality well.

And note to attendees who commented on us having hard liquor: that’s not something we’d ever do. As it turned out, the venue thought they were doing us a favor providing it gratis, and it was a while before people realized the liquor was there. Also, we did not pay for the hard liquor.


The views expressed in this blog are Barbara Rimer’s alone and do not represent the views and policies of The University of North Carolina or the Gillings School of Global Public Health.

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