While on campus in 2008 to accept the Elizabeth Blackwell Award, Dr. Wangari Maathai, the founder of the Green Belt Movement and the 2004 Recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, planted an Asian flowering Kousa Dogwood tree near the Quad. Pictured above are Frank Pullano, Courtney Good ’08, the former Dean of William Smith College Debra DeMeis, President Mark D. Gearan and Maathai.
On campus this year, we have been engaged in a broad conversation about the power of an idea to create meaningful change across disciplines and sectors. From social entrepreneurs to business entrepreneurs, we have considered how ideas – and frequently simple ones – have advanced causes, businesses and large-scale movements. For the past decade, the Colleges have been privileged to host some of the most remarkable men and women of our generation who have visited our campus to speak at The President’s Forum and the Fisher Center, to impart career guidance through the Salisbury Center for Career Services, to offer advice at Convocation and Commencement, and to share their reflections as recipients of the Elizabeth Blackwell Award. Many of these remarkable men and women have been Hobart and William Smith alums and parents.
This fall, just as we were preparing to honor Eunice Kennedy Shriver with the 38th Elizabeth Blackwell Award, we learned that a member of our community, Dr. Wangari Maathai P’94, P’96, Sc.D. ’94, the 36th recipient of the Blackwell, had died. Maathai, who was the first woman from Africa and the first environmentalist to win the Nobel Peace Prize, was the founder of the Green Belt Movement, an organization devoted to conserving the environment and improving the quality of life for African women through leadership and entrepreneurial skills. Recognized by the international community as a passionate advocate for civil liberties and sustainability, she was known to the HWS community for her dedication to the Colleges and her pride in the accomplishments of her three children, including Wanjiri Mathai ’94 and Muta Mathai ’96 who graduated from HWS.
Maathai had a simple yet compelling idea – that by planting trees, she could improve the lives of rural women and help the environment. That simple idea turned into a human rights and environmental revolution, one that has profoundly affected the lives of millions of people. Maathai will be greatly missed by her family, friends and many admirers around the globe, but her idea will endure.
The Colleges themselves were founded as a result of an enduring idea – that higher education has the capacity to transform the lives of young men and women and that they in turn can transform their own communities and the world. This idea has required the care and nurturing of generations of people who, through volunteerism and philanthropy, have propelled Hobart and William Smith into the future securely. Each day, I observe an energy and optimism in the efforts of HWS community members who are united by the idea that in advancing the Colleges and creating opportunities for students, they are changing lives. The results have been extraordinary – greater access for talented and deserving students, a 21st century campus that marries nearly 200 years of history with modern facilities, and the support of research, creative pursuits, academic dreams and career trajectories of thousands of students.
As we celebrate the many accomplishments of our students, faculty and graduates in this publication, I ask you to consider how you can remain engaged in the life of the Colleges. Consider mentoring a current student as part of our Career Network or assisting with new student recruitment as part of the Admissions Volunteer Network. Volunteer to organize events in your area. Make HWS a philanthropic priority with annual support and through Campaign for the Colleges. Stay in touch with Hobart and William Smith through Facebook, Twitter and our website. And of course, consider returning to Geneva to visit your alma mater.
Mark D. Gearan