Dr. Chris Winfree '87 Receives Distinguished Alumni Award

Dr. Christopher Winfree ‘87’s days are measured in millimeters - just one in the wrong direction and a life could be lost. This exacting precision is the framework from which he has operated during his career as a distinguished neurosurgeon at Columbia University.

And the weight of this responsibility - holding people’s lives daily in his hands - has been a sobering reminder that he can tackle anything that life throws at him.

“You are working and learning to thrive in a high pressure environment [as a neurosurgeon], seeing the worst of human circumstances and you’re doing what you can to help your patients survive. It made me realize that regardless of the circumstance, ‘I got this,’” said Winfree.

Winfree, who attended Benjamin, formerly North Palm Beach Private during his early days, was named the 2022 Distinguished Alumnus by the School’s Alumni Council and honored during a ceremony hosted in Benjamin Hall April 12. 

Winfree expressed a debt of gratitude to school founders Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin for their efforts as visionary leaders. Without whom, “none of this would have been possible,” said Winfree who spent the morning visiting upper school science teacher Dr. Renee Szeliga’s biotechnology classroom.

By his own acknowledgment, he had the “single minded obsession” to become a neurosurgeon from an early age. Winfree credited former TBS parent and neighbor Dr. J. Peter Lawler, who was in attendance at the ceremony and is the current grandparent of a Benjamin student, as his first professional role model.

“I didn’t know how to articulate it at that time, but you made people better. You were the person I wanted to be and launched my trajectory to be a doctor,” said Winfree.

Bringing the Benjamin family ties full-circle, it was Lawler’s son Paul, President of the Alumni Council, who introduced Winfree at the start of his speech.

Winfree spoke to the upper school community about his path to success, which was admittedly paved with his fair share of failures. 

“It’s about hard work, not luck,” said Winfree.

“I was shy. I was socially awkward. I was a weird kid. I never dated or went to a high school party. It was totally cringeworthy. And thinking about this in hindsight, it was even a little painful,” Winfree told the audience. 

Winfree shared his freshman year report card from Dartmouth with the crowd to illustrate he didn’t always have stellar grades, and went through a “soul searching series of moments” as a freshman as he figured out how to study and be an efficient student. 

Winfree advocated for a balanced trifecta of work, self, and family as the key to happiness and success. 

“Choose an engaging hobby. Create your network of friends, peers, and mentors. Pay it forward. Don’t just be a taker. Be grateful; a lot of people have sacrificed over the years to get you where you are. Fail, learn, and move on,” said Winfree.
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