Ben Cai

Year of Graduation: 
Exonian Ben Cai

"I really want to commit to Exeter's model of goodness and knowledge — specifically the idea of service."

Opportunity is a word that comes up often as Ben Cai '20 reflects on his four years at Exeter. 

Thinking back to the start of his Exeter adventure, the Rhode Island native still vividly recalls his family's excitement on the morning they learned he'd been admitted to the Academy. With his mother teary-eyed and his father beaming with pride, Cai read the acceptance email and watched the accompanying video in a mild state of disbelief. "I remember thinking, 'Wow, this actually just happened,'" he says. "Four years of my life and beyond, that's an opportunity that I couldn't miss."

I wasn't thinking about money, per se, but I could tell from my parents' reactions that they were definitely relieved."

Adding to the elation of that morning was another piece of good news: Cai would be receiving financial aid. While only 14 at the time, he understood the importance of this additional piece of information. "I wasn't thinking about money, per se, but I could tell from my parents' reactions that they were definitely relieved."


It didn't take long for Cai to settle into life at the Academy and explore all Exeter has to offer both on campus and off. During his prep year, Cai traveled to Yellowstone National Park to study the effect of climate change by tracking the movement of wildlife within the park. While out west, Cai and his classmates connected with ranch owner, conservationist and alum Jeff Laszlo '74. 

"He showed us that being environmental and being profitable are not mutually exclusive and how being sustainable has actually led to an increase in business profits," Cai says about his time with Laszlo. 

Exploring his interest in business, Cai spent summer sessions in Berlin, where he studied entrepreneurship from a global perspective; and Hong Kong at the MIT Innovation Academy, where international students pair with local students to create model companies. 

If you want to go into business, you should try to be ethical about it."

"We spent time learning about business concepts, like, 'What exactly is your market?' and 'How exactly is your product going to be produced?'" he says. 

As part of the experience, Cai and his classmates toured factories in Shenzhen, China, to see how products are made, an experience he calls "eye-opening." 
"The conditions were pretty bad and made me realize that everyone might not have it as good as you and if you want to go into business, you should try to be ethical about it."

Paying it forward

Of all of Cai's undertakings at Exeter, he cites his most impactful as his work with the School Participatory Action Research Collaborative, or SPARC. With the support of advisers Hannah Hofheinz and Aviva Halani, Cai and 12 group mates studied how students' socioeconomic status effects their experience at Exeter. After collecting data through surveys, focus groups and in-person interviews with his peers, Cai and the other members of SPARC analyzed their findings before presenting to school administrators. 

"We found areas where the Academy could improve, like creating more awareness about the different types of financial aid that's available," he says. He said the group found that, regarding class dynamics across campus, students are generally supportive of one another.

Cai says this lower-year experience inspired the other types of extracurricular opportunities he'd pursue, including his work on issues of diversity, equity and inclusion as a member of student council and in his time as the news editor for the school newspaper.

"Whenever there are issues regarding socioeconomic status. I've been quick to work with my writers and editors and assign an article," he says about his work at The Exonian. "It's important to acknowledge financial-aid students' struggles and also their successes."

Cai and Abbot Hall dorm mate Cameron Frary '20 stroll through campus.

Looking ahead

With the end of his Exeter experience in sight, Cai considers just how much his time at the Academy has shaped how he sees his future.

"When I came into Exeter, I was really set on studying business and becoming a CEO, but I definitely want to go into public policy," he says. "I really want to commit to Exeter's model of goodness and knowledge — specifically the idea of service."

On the eve of his senior spring, Cai provides parting advice for the next generation of students considering Exeter.  

"Think about all the opportunities that are available to you. Not only academically or in terms of clubs, summer programs or vacation trips, but just in terms of the everyday experience."