In the Upper School Chapel on Wednesday, March 4, Headmaster Lee Burns '87 went to the podium to speak. His remarks follow:
Of the many characteristics that I admire in people, at or near the top of my list would be resilience: the determination to keep going, to keep fighting, no matter the odds or circumstances, despite the pain or obstacles. Resilience is a combination of courage, passion and discipline, and it is rare in today’s world.
As students at McCallie, you naturally interact with and get to know your teachers, advisors, deans and coaches. Yet there are many people here you probably don’t get to know, or maybe even know of, and yet their roles here are essential.
Our Business Office manages tens of thousands of financial transactions each year, totaling many millions of dollars. Their precise, timely and complex work is vital to each one of us and our school. Leading that office as our Executive Director of Finance is Jessica Hibbs, now in her 22nd year at McCallie.
In November of 2013, Ms. Hibbs, though a relatively young woman, was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. When it was discovered, it was in its late stages. The doctors told her she had a life expectancy of 6-8 months.
I’m not sure what I would do if I were told I had a short life expectancy, but here’s what Ms. Hibbs did. She began an aggressive and grueling treatment regimen. If you’ve had a friend or family member undergo chemotherapy and/or radiation, you know how brutal it can be on the body, as the drugs wreak havoc on the body in an attempt to kill the cancer.
Despite the painful side effects of the treatments and of the cancer itself, Ms. Hibbs never stopped coming to work here at McCallie. Many days, she would be at the hospital or doctor’s office in the morning, and then in her office shortly thereafter. I’ve never heard her complain. I’ve never heard her express self-pity or make excuses or be bitter. Her work performance has remained exemplary.
The cancer is not just in her pancreas, but in her liver also, and a few weeks ago, the doctors discovered it is in her bones as well, specifically the hips. They said her hips were like swiss cheese. The doctors told her she needs to use a walker.
On a recent snow, we as a school were closed. Ms. Hibbs, though, came into the Business Office to work. Cancer, ice, a walker, a closed office -- those didn’t keep her away. That afternoon, she attended her regular exercise class, using weights with her arms.
Her service to McCallie is remarkable and valuable, and certainly to be recognized and appreciated by all of us. But more than that, the way she is leading her life is inspiring and instructive. It is a life of fullness, going the extra mile, courage, and resilience. It is an example that encourages and challenges me.
It is my pleasure and honor, on behalf of our school, to recognize and salute Ms. Hibbs and to induct her into the McCallie Letterman’s Club, presenting her a Varsity M for courage.
Ms. Hibbs, please come forward to receive our gratitude and admiration and your varsity M.
Following Mr. Burns' remarks, Associate Headmaster Kenny Sholl spoke briefly before presenting Ms. Hibbs with her varsity letter.
It has been an honor and my pleasure to work closely with Jessica for over 20 years. During that time, we had to tackle some very challenging tasks. I found her, without fail, to be resilient, resourceful, and creative in her approach to difficult issues. She remains one of the most talented, dedicated, and creative individuals I have ever met.
Men, Jessica is a true butt-kicker!
For her dedication to the McCallie Community and for her courage and incredible spirit, the coaches, athletes and alumni are honored to recognize her as an honorary letterman and proudly award her the McCallie M.
On March 25, the collective student bodies of McCallie and Girls Preparatory School will go on their third annual Mission: Remission walk through downtown Chattanooga. Over the last two years, the two schools have combined to raise more than $40,000 to support a variety of charities and organizations involved in the fight against cancer. Click here to read a story about the 2014 walk.