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A Shot in the Arm

NC State senior Lilly Fowler was the final winner in the N.C. Summer Cash Drawings vaccine lottery.

In early August, NC State senior Lilly Fowler got a call she wasn’t expecting. The voice on the other end identified herself as Charlene Wong, chief health policy officer for COVID-19 at the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. “She goes, ‘I wanted to tell you, you’ve won a million dollars.’ So I hung up on her,” Fowler says.

“She calls me again. I’m like ‘Oh, god. These scammers.’” But it wasn’t a scam. Fowler, who is from East Bend, N.C., was the final winner of the N.C. Summer Cash Drawings, the state’s lottery to encourage people to get the COVID-19 vaccine. It still took another call, a call from Wong to Fowler’s father and a FaceTime in which Wong had to virtually show Fowler the offices of DHHS to prove the legitimacy of Fowler’s win. “I’m like, scammers aren’t buying these large Department of Health and Human Services signs,” Fowler says.

The vaccine lottery, Fowler concedes, was not a motivator and was not even something she knew about. After taking some time to consider the shot and talking it over with her family, she decided to get vaccinated because she was coming to Raleigh in the fall. Fowler graduated with an associate’s degree from Surry Community College in 2020, transferred to NC State as a junior last year, but ended up taking classes remotely because of COVID. Fall 2021 was her first full semester on campus.

Lilly Fowler with her cousin, Kynsley. Photograph courtesy of Lilly Fowler.
Lilly Fowler (left) with her girlfriend, Caroline. Photograph courtesy of Lilly Fowler.

But coming to school wasn’t the only motivating factor. She says the people she loved and their health played an important role in her decision. She considered her grandmothers in East Bend, and her 3-year-old cousin Kynsley, with whom she spends a lot of time. “I don’t want to bring anything back to them,” she says.

And Fowler knew she’d also be traveling back to East Bend on weekends to spend time with her girlfriend, Caroline. “She said, ‘Well, I really want you to get it,’” Fowler says.

So that’s what Fowler did over the summer.

Fowler says she has never once bought a lottery ticket. The business administration major is admittedly frugal. So far, she has committed to doing only one thing with her winnings—take Kynsley to Disney World. “She loves Elsa and Mickey,” Fowler says. “She’s not going to remember it, but I’m just going to watch her believe these characters are real.”

Fowler’s energies instead are on her classes this fall—a digital marketing practicum, an accounting course, a communications class and Spanish—and her internship with the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, where she’s using her passion for marketing to help the state’s tourism and small businesses.

“I mean, I haven’t used any of the money,” she says, “so nothing’s really changed in my life.”

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