Thousands Return to Campus for Alumni Weekend
Events honor BU’s black community| From Alumni Notes | By Art Jahnke. Slideshow by Amy Laskowski
Take a closer look at Alumni Weekend 2011 in the slideshow above.
Glenn Staub came to see Travis Roy. A professional fitness trainer in Tarrytown, N.Y., Staub (SMG’87) is a longtime admirer of Roy’s personal strength. Roy was a freshman hockey player in 1995 when he crashed into the boards 11 seconds into his first college game, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. Roy (COM’00), who now runs a nonprofit dedicated to enhancing the lives of people with spinal cord injuries, was one of four alumni honored in October at Alumni Weekend’s 65th Annual Alumni Awards.
“I really just wanted to see him,” said Staub. “He’s incredible.” Staub, who has been to several alumni events, even brought two of his clients, “huge hockey fans,” he said, who were eager to see that weekend’s men’s hockey contest against UMass.
Staub was one of roughly 5,000 alumni who came back to the Charles River and Medical Campuses for Alumni Weekend, October 28–30. Steven Hall, vice president for alumni relations, said the turnout was several times larger than similar events a few years ago.
“There really is a palpable energy among the BU alumni population, and it was on full display,” said Hall. “There was something for everyone, but the highlight of the weekend was BU’s first Celebration of Black Alumni, with special events focused on the amazing legacy of African American alumni.”
The celebration began with a talk by Walter Fluker (GRS’88), the Martin Luther King, Jr., Professor of Ethical Leadership at the School of Theology, about the role of King (GRS’55, Hon.’59) in the civil rights movement. Fluker spoke at the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center, where the University’s extensive King collection was on display. The theme, which recognized BU’s more than century-long education of African American leaders, carried through several events, including an African cooking demonstration; a class featuring Dan Charnas (CAS’89), author of The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip-Hop; a jazz brunch; and a barbecue dinner on Saturday, at which Pulitzer Prize winner Isabel Wilkerson, a College of Communication professor of journalism, talked about her award-winning book The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration. The book details the migration of African Americans from the South to the rest of the country from 1915 to 1970.
In the video above, Bob Herbert, award-winning journalist and former op-ed columnist for the New York Times, delivers the third annual Howard Zinn Memorial Lecture.
Former New York Times op-ed writer Bob Herbert delivered the third annual Howard Zinn Memorial Lecture. Speaking before a crowd of several hundred alumni, students, and faculty, Herbert, who is African American, described Zinn as a personal hero and praised him for “a mind that sliced right through the most contentious issues.”
“Things have to change in this society,” Herbert warned. “My message tonight is that conditions do not have to be this way. We have the power to change. But that will require a real lift.”
Herbert urged the audience to take a cue from Occupy Wall Street and other protest movements. He said the mainstream press must listen more carefully to progressive voices, and he decried what he says is a nation in which the top one percent controls the majority of the nation’s wealth. In one of the evening’s most electrifying moments, Herbert told the audience: “Read my lips. Redistribute the wealth.”
The audience broke into loud applause.
Perhaps the most authentically African of African American–themed events was a talk about African cooking by James McCann and PhD candidate Natalie Mettler (GRS’13). McCann, a College of Arts & Sciences professor of history and director ad interim of the Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future, is the author of Stirring the Pot: A History of African Cuisine. He told the audience that making food was like making jazz: “You begin with an idea; then you improvise.” McCann and Mettler, who is studying the foods of West Africa, also served an authentic African meal, with cassava, plantains, and lamb served with mafe, a ground peanut sauce.
At the same time that McCann’s exotic foods were enjoyed in the test kitchen at 808 Comm Ave, a grander lunch was being served in the George Sherman Union’s Metcalf Hall, where several hundred alumni gathered for the 65th Annual Alumni Awards and Luncheon. Looking out at the crowd, President Robert A. Brown said the impressive attendance was evidence of “an increased sense of energy and pride” that he felt at all alumni events.
“Every time you come back to this campus you see something new,” he said. This time, for example, it was the six-story Center for Student Services rising on East Campus. “We just topped off that building yesterday,” said Brown. “The important thing about that building is that it shows our dedication to the success of our students.”
Young Alumni Award winner Travis Roy (COM’00) with men’s hockey head coach Jack Parker (SMG’68, Hon.’97) (right) and Shadi Daher (SDM’90,’94), president of the BU Alumni Association. Photo by Frank Curran
The first to be honored was Young Alumni Award winner Travis Roy (COM’00), who was given a standing ovation even before he reached the stage. Roy, a motivational speaker and activist, said the greatest moment of his BU experience came when his hockey jersey was hung above the ice. “To see it hanging there, I feel like it was all of us who put it there,” he said. “The students, the hockey team, it was everyone who made BU the kind of place where I could find myself.”
Alumni Awards were presented to Elizabeth Cohen (SPH’92), senior medical correspondent at CNN; Gerard Cohen (LAW’62), founder and owner of Western Carriers; and humanitarian and philanthropist Meera Gandhi (GSM’89).
Elizabeth Cohen, who covers breaking medical news and consumer health issues for CNN and cnn.com, developed the cnn.com column “Empowered Patient” and in 2010 published the book The Empowered Patient: How to Get the Right Diagnosis, Buy the Cheapest Drugs, Beat Your Insurance Company, and Get the Best Medical Care Every Time.
Gerard Cohen has been active in the BU Alumni Council and the School of Law Alumni Association’s executive committee. In 1994, he and his family established the Gerard H. Cohen Award, given to a member of the LAW administrative staff who has shown unselfish and distinguished service to the school.
Meera Gandhi created the Giving Back Foundation, aimed at alleviating poverty, illness, and suffering and at helping to educate women and children. Gandhi’s documentary film Giving Back was screened after the awards ceremony.
Recipients of 2011 Alumni Awards were (from left) Gerard Cohen (LAW’62), Meera Gandhi (GSM’89), and Elizabeth Cohen (SPH’92). Photos by Frank Curran
BU’s individual schools and colleges also presented alumni awards throughout the weekend.
Later Saturday, Staub and his hockey fan guests got the excitement they came for. Coming back from a 3-0 deficit at the end of the first period, the Terriers took the contest with UMass into overtime, where they clinched a 5-4 victory.
The final event of the weekend, a jazz brunch in Metcalf Hall, attracted a full house. Desiree James-Barber (CAS’81), a PhD candidate in urban systems at Rutgers University, said this was the first time she had returned to BU for Alumni Weekend, and she made the trip because the event was a Celebration of Black Alumni.
“It was fantastic,” she said. “It was amazing—the best part was meeting the students.” James-Barber said she particularly enjoyed the talk and book signing by Joseph Cronin, author of Reforming Boston Schools, 1930 to the Present: Overcoming Corruption and Racial Segregation. “The whole weekend was a great opportunity to meet other black alums,” she said. “I was able to find out about networks they started that I can link up with again.”