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Winter Storm Warning Can’t Keep Alums Away

Alumni Weekend draws thousands

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Glenn Staub came to see Travis Roy, and was glad he did. 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 on Saturday 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 the men’s hockey contest against UMass on Saturday night.

Staub was one of roughly 5,000 alumni who came back to the Charles River Campus and the Medical Campus for Alumni Weekend, despite warnings of an unseasonably early winter storm. Steven Hall, vice president of alumni relations, said the turnout was several times as large as 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 on Thursday 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), the 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 book The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration.

On Friday evening, former New York Times op-ed page writer Bob Herbert delivered the third annual Howard Zinn Memorial Lecture (watch the video below). 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 all the other protest movements out there. 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 control the majority of the nation’s wealth. In one of the most electrifying moments of the evening, Herbert told the audience: “Read my lips. Redistribute the wealth.”

The audience broke into a huge round of applause.

Perhaps the most authentically African of African American–themed events was Saturday’s 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.”

Brown said alumni giving has climbed with alumni spirit, citing a record $90 million in gifts in the last year, including $15 million pledged by trustee Bahaa Hariri (SMG’90) for a new computing institute and $25 million from Rajen Kilachand (GSM’74), for whose parents the Arvind and Chandan Nandlal Kilachand Honors College is now named.

Hall presented the Distinguished Alumni Awards. First up was Young Alumni Award winner Travis Roy (COM’00), who was given a standing ovation even before he reached the stage. Roy, who is now 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.”

Distinguished Alumni Awards recipients were 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 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, whose documentary film Giving Back was screened after the ceremony, told the audience that she was “deeply touched” by the award. “Without the guidance and wisdom of my professors, I wonder how much I would have accomplished,” she said. “Boston University helped me grow and gain wisdom in a very special way.”

On Saturday night, Staub and his hockey fan guests got the excitement they came for and more. 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 cinched a 5-4 victory.

Sunday morning’s 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 Saturday’s 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.”

Meg Umlas (MET’03), executive director of alumni relations, said she was very pleased to welcome nearly 5,000 alumni. “There were many highlights,” Umlas said. “They include our Back to Class sessions, the Golden Terrier Luncheon, and the Terrier Tailgate. There was an activity for alumni and guests from every decade.”

Watch this video on YouTube

Bob Herbert, award winning journalist and former op-ed columnist for the New York Times, delivers the third annual Howard Zinn Memorial Lecture.

Amy Laskowski can be reached at amlaskow@bu.edu.

4 Comments
Art Jahnke

Art Jahnke can be reached at jahnke@bu.edu.

4 Comments on Winter Storm Warning Can’t Keep Alums Away

  • anonymous on 10.31.2011 at 9:13 am

    Sounds like everyone had a great time. When’s the white alumni weekend going to be?

    • anonymous2 on 10.31.2011 at 10:20 am

      It was the same weekend. It’s called “Alumni Weekend”. Duh.

    • Logic on 10.31.2011 at 11:34 am

      Wow… you are soooo funny. No really, that is the worst joke of sercastic comment I’ve ever read. This was Alumni Weekend, and only one of the events was called “Black Alumni Recognition Rececption.” Don’t write anything if you have no idea what you are talking about…

  • Reason on 10.31.2011 at 1:49 pm

    You mad, bro?

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