Nobel laureate Maria Ressa, composer Julia Wolfe and student award winners honored at Princeton Alumni Day

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Nobel Peace Prize laureate Maria Ressa and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Julia Wolfe received top honors on Princeton’s Graduate Day on Saturday, February 19. The event was the first in-person graduate celebration on campus in two years.

President Christopher L. Eisgruber (middle) congratulated seniors Claire Wayner (left) and Christian Potter (right) for winning the Pyne Award, which recognizes “excellent scholarship, strength of character and effective leadership” . Potter addressed the Alumni Day crowd via Zoom, while Wayner addressed the audience in the Richardson Auditorium.

“How wonderful to be back at the place that gave me the foundation for almost everything I do,” Ressa told alumni, students, faculty, staff and guests seated in the auditorium. Richardson.

Ressa, a member of the class of 1986 who earned a bachelor’s degree in English and a certificate in theater and dance, received the undergraduate alumni’s highest honor, the Woodrow Wilson Award. Wolfe, who earned his doctorate. in Music from Princeton in 2012, received the top graduate award, the James Madison Medal.

The annual Mid-Winter Alumni Gathering, halted at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, also recognized Pyne Award undergraduate recipients Christian Potter and Claire Wayner, and Jacobus Fellows graduate students Erin Kado- Fong, Zachary Teed and Spencer Weinrich. The students each shared brief remarks about their academic and extracurricular passions, and their appreciation for the Princeton community.

President Christopher L. Eisgruber said the Graduate Day winners demonstrate the transformative power of Princeton’s ability to make bold bets on human talent.

The Jacobus Prize winners in front of the Nassau HAll

(Left to right) Spencer Weinreich, Erin Kado-Fong and Zachary Teed won the Jacobus Scholarship, Princeton University’s highest honor for graduate students.

“Princeton has an almost unique ability to contribute to the world by making bold bets on human talent,” Eisgruber said. “We welcome undergraduates, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and faculty members to this campus and invest in it for the long term, encouraging them to pursue visionary dreams and speculative ideas. And as alumni, the Tigers take those ideas out into the world and change them for the better.

The morning awards program was followed by the afternoon remembrance service in the university chapel, which honored Princetonians who have died over the past two years. Nearly 750 alumni attended the 107th Alumni Day in person and thousands watched the live stream on Princeton’s social media channels.

Maria Ressa and the “battle for facts”

“I can’t think of anyone more deserving of this award and right now than Maria,” said College Dean Jill Dolan as she introduced Ressa. “Her determination to imagine a better world, and her dedication to making it one, sets today’s winner apart. She is a beacon of hope…and exemplifies Princeton’s commitment to service.

A journalist for over 35 years, Ressa is CEO and President of independent media Rappler.com in the Philippines. His reporting on the authoritarian administration of President Rodrigo Duterte has been met with continued political harassment and arrests by the Duterte government.

Ressa nearly didn’t make it to Graduate Day to accept her award after a last-minute battle with courts in the Philippines to approve her trip.

When she saw the “Welcome to America” ​​sign at the airport, “I hugged the air.” Ressa said. “You don’t know what freedom looks like until you almost lose it.”

“You don’t really know who you are until you have to fight for it,” she continued, “and it’s been a big fight for my values ​​and my profession since 2016. And that made me stronger. As Princeton and Nietzsche taught me: what doesn’t kill makes you stronger.

Watch Maria Ressa’s speech here

Maria Ressa on the podium

“How wonderful to be back in the place that gave me the foundation for almost everything I do,” Ressa told alumni, students, faculty, staff and guests. Ressa is a graduate of Princeton Class of 1986, and CEO and President of Rappler.com in the Philippines.

For her commitment to free speech and her bravery in reporting on the Duterte regime, Ressa was named TIME Person of the Year and co-winner of the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize. This commitment to the truth, Ressa said, is grounded in Princeton’s honor code. The Honor Code was created in 1893 as an agreement between faculty and undergraduate students to maintain a high standard of academic integrity at Princeton.

“When I took over as head of the Philippines’ largest news organization, I explained the Princeton Honor Code – how we each swear our honor not to cheat and we took responsibility for the world around us: that if we saw someone cheating, we would report it,” she said. “It has become the foundation of almost a thousand journalists in our fight against corruption. took a zero-tolerance approach – and the honor code made it personal.

Ressa now fears that social media and other digital platforms are making it much harder for the public to discern what is true.

Audience dressed in orange and black

Nearly 750 alumni attended the 107th Alumni Day in person on Saturday, February 19, and the events were also livestreamed around the world. It was the first major alumni celebration on campus in two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Studies have shown that lies mixed with anger and hate spread [online] faster and further than the facts,” she said. “Without facts, you cannot have the truth. Without truth, you cannot trust. Without that, we have no shared reality, no rule of law, no democracy.

In response to a question from the audience about the balance between “love and criticism of the country”, Ressa said that being a critical thinker, as Princetonians are taught, means she can do both.

“The greatest love is not to remain silent when you see something that could be better. I love both my countries, the Philippines and the United States, and I do my best to [them] better.”

Ahead of Alumni Day, Ressa visited his hometown of Toms River, New Jersey, on a trip arranged by the Princeton Office of Communications. Ressa’s family moved from the Philippines when she was 10 years old. During a reunion with students from her former high school, Ressa explained how growing up in Toms River and attending Princeton helped shape who she is today.

Julia Wolfe: The power of music and creativity

Wolfe, an internationally acclaimed composer and professor of music at New York University, said she was honored to be the second female composer to receive the james Madison Medal.

“When I got the call about the Princeton Prize, I was stunned,” Wolfe told the audience. “As an artist, you are not usually celebrated in the company of scientists, economists and historians.”

Watch Julia Wolfe’s speech here

Wolfe’s work has earned him a Pulitzer Prize, MacArthur Fellowship, and Grammy Award nominations. She is also the co-founder of Bang on a Can, the multi-faceted, innovative music organization that began as a one-day musical marathon of contemporary classical music.

Julia Wolfe in front of a projection of musicians and children sepia

Wolfe, who earned his doctorate. in Music in 2012, shared some of her pieces with the Grad Day audience, discussing how she blends amplification, electronics, found sounds, and a wide range of visual elements.

The Graduate School’s acting dean, Cole Crittenden, said Wolfe is an alumnus who forged an exemplary career, selflessly devoted himself to public service and remained a steadfast pillar in the cause of Higher Education.

“She is one of the most sought-after classical composers today, having written a major body of works for strings, from quartets to full orchestra, that draws inspiration from the folk, classical and rock genres,” said Crittenden. “Julia now spends time in the New York University classroom, inspiring next generations of musicians and composers. In the classroom or on the biggest stages in the world, Julia Wolfe amazes us all with her immense talents and her gift for music.

Wolfe shared some of her pieces with the Grad Day audience, talking about how she mixes amplification, electronics, found sounds, and a huge range of visual elements.

“Part of the reason I was drawn to writing music is that it’s an expression beyond words – you can’t really explain it,” she said. “We can study music and look for ways to describe it, but in the end there’s this wonderful, inexplicable power that overwhelms us.”

Wolfe has been described as a music documentarian, given her interest in singing stories that focus on “not-so-famous people”, especially little-known stories from American labor history. She played excerpts from her albums “Anthracite Fields” about coal miners in Pennsylvania and “Fire In My Mouth”, about the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

Wolfe concluded by expressing his gratitude for Princeton’s place in his life.

“Princeton means a lot to me,” she said. “Not only for the things I learned here, but also for now seeing my own NYU students thrive in Princeton’s incredible music composition graduate program. I’m so proud of them, and the work they are doing right now sounds loud and clear like the new voice of the music of our time.

Recordings of the Richardson Program and the Service of Remembrance can be found on Princeton’s YouTube.

chapel and kite during the service

Alumni Day ended with the traditional remembrance service in the University Chapel in honor of deceased Princetonians.

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