Andover Alumni Award Of Distinction Presented To Maro Chermayeff ’80, Tracy Kidder ’63 And Marvin Minsky ’45

With three of Andover’s most distinguished alumni seated on the stage during Wednesday’s All-School Meeting (ASM) to accept the Andover Alumni Award of Distinction, students and faculty soaked in their inspiring stories and advice.

Each year since 2012, the Andover Alumni Council has recognized graduates of Andover or Abbot Academy who have achieved great success in their fields of endeavor with the Andover Alumni Award of Distinction. The award acknowledges the recipient’s impressive accomplishments and honors their successful lives that began at Andover.

The Alumni Council presents the awards at the recommendation of Andover alumni. This year’s recipients of the award were Maro Chermayeff ’80, Tracy Kidder ’63, Marvin Minsky ’45 and Julia Alvarez ’67, who visited Andover for the Youth from Every Quarter ASM last week. The theme of this week’s ASM was “Finis Origine Pendet,” one of Andover’s mottos, which means “the end depends upon the beginning.”

Award recipients attended a celebratory dinner the Tuesday before ASM in the Mural Room. Alumni, faculty and students gathered to honor the recipients’ extraordinary achievements. After ASM, students were invited to a Q&A session with the recipients in the Mural Room.

Maro Chermayeff

While many of her classmates struggled to discover new talents and dreams during their time at Andover, Maro Chermayeff ’80 was a cinema buff since childhood. Chermayeff loved shooting short experimental films with her friends and dreamed of a career in the cinema industry.

“I think [at Andover] I was thinking about the fundamentals that built my interest, rather than focusing on what my career would be… I always knew that I was going to be in the film business,” Chermayeff said during an interview with The Phillipian. “It was [more about] how I [was] going to do it. I pretty much decided here and through college that I wanted to do documentary. I really wanted to tell a true voice.”

After 35 illustrious years in the film industry, Chermayeff’s works have garnered widespread critical acclaim. She received an Emmy Award for her film, “Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present,” which she co-produced with her partner, Jeff Dupree.

Additionally, as the president and cofounder of “Show of Force,” an organization that creates innovative documentaries and broadcasts, Chermayeff has created numerous television series and films that aim to shed light on significant social issues, including human trafficking and women’s rights.

“What really brought me [into documentary] was a sense of a moral conscience taking me down a path of looking at how can I take the things that I care about, the things that are important to me, the talents that I have in my chosen field… how can I take those interests and channel them into issues in great need of a voice,” said Chermayeff during her speech at ASM.

Chermayeff’s passion for filmmaking that she cultivated at Andover has remained strong throughout her decades of work. “Every film is like a new Master’s degree… Every time, you’re starting again,” said Chermayeff. “I’m not sure that I would do well if I was an accountant, if I were doing the same thing all the time. I like to constantly change it up. It’s always the same medium, the story of film and media… but I get tired if it doesn’t change up all the time. One day I’m doing music and one day it’s about organ transplantation.”

Looking back at her time in high school, Chermayeff remembers Andover as a place of new beginnings and a starting line to her career in film as well as her social and personal development.

“There are a lot of firsts [at Andover] when you’re young… For so many people, it’s the first time they’re away from home, the first time they fall in love, the first time you have a mentor, the first time you fail,” said Chermayeff.

Chermayeff hopes she inspires current Andover students to use their talent in the field of their choice to make a difference in the world. “Helping people to find their passion, and then realize how they can turn that into something that’s lifelong for them, is very important to me,” said Chermayeff.

“Seize the things you want to do with your life, and take in all that they have to offer. Other people on the other end are going to be benefitted, but the person that’s going to benefit the most is yourself,” said Chermayeff during her speech at ASM.

Tracy Kidder

Tracy Kidder ’63 initially began writing during college to impress girls in his class. Not too long after, though, writing became one of his greatest passions, leading Kidder to a distinguished career as a journalist, novelist and writer.

“My mother was a high school English teacher, and she always read to me and my brothers. When I got to Harvard, I took a course in creative writing for the fun of it, and the instructor seemed to like some of the stuff that I wrote. But I think that my first strong impulse to become a writer was that it seemed like a way to meet and impress girls,” said Kidder during an interview with The Phillipian.

After earning a BA from Harvard College, Kidder served as a lieutenant in the Vietnam War, then proceeded to attend the renowned Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa, where he earned his MFA. His many novels, including “The Soul of a New Machine” and “Among the Schoolchildren,” have earned him a Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award and the Robert F. Kennedy Award, among other accolades.

Kidder said he considers his 2003 book “Mountains Beyond Mountains,” a nonfiction biography recounting the work of Paul Farmer, a doctor who worked in Haiti to help fight tuberculosis and AIDS, his favorite piece of writing.

“I was handed a very interesting story, at a time when I still had a lot of energy and was probably as good a writer as I was ever going to be,” said Kidder. “I didn’t write that book to do a good deed. I just had a good story and wanted to tell it as well as I could.”

Kidder’s time at Andover heavily impacted his development as a writer. He credits his Andover education for his strong foundations in writing that have fueled his work.

“I hadn’t done any [writing] until I got here. I went to public school through eighth grade. I remember having to write an essay in eighth grade, and as I recall, what you were supposed to do was to copy something from the encyclopedia… [Andover was] where I found that I had to learn how to write,” said Kidder.

Kidder recalled memories of Fred Peterson, an influential English teacher he had during his time at Andover, and thanked him for instilling in him a deep knowledge of poetry and making him memorize poems that he still remembers even to this day.

“I had this strange English teacher who we used to make fun of… In retrospect, I loved the man… He was a lot smarter than he wanted us to realize. He had us memorize poetry, and I still have, rattling around in my head, great gouts of Shakespeare… [Something] I’ve done all my life since then is memorize poems. Somehow, it seems really important to me… memorizing great pieces of language and having them in your head. It’s a resource you have in there to call on in some way,” he said.

Now, Kidder is recognized as a leading literary journalists and is known for his powerful personal voice in his writing. His most recent book “Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction” serves as a guide to nonfiction writing for individuals of various literary levels.

Marvin Minsky Marvin Minsky ’45 developed a love for robotics and technology at a young age – he was often played with Tinkertoys and Lincoln Logs. He is now widely acknowledged as one of the world’s first leaders in the development of artificial intelligence and has made a number of significant contributions in the fields of robotics, cognitive psychology and mathematics.

Once Minsky graduated from Andover, he served in the Navy for a few months and was stationed in Florida. As World War II came to an end, Minsky returned to his studies and attended Harvard University for his college education.

“At college, I had a great time. I worked with the best scientists of the era, so I was in heaven for many years and anything I wanted to do, somebody would help get it done,” said Minsky during an interview with The Phillipian.

After receiving his BA degree in mathematics and PhD from Harvard and Princeton, respectively, Minsky went on to become a professor at Massachussets Institute of Technology (MIT). There, he encouraged his students to speak up in class and follow their natural instincts and interests.

“They should ignore all advice and do the smart thing. They should say you’re wrong and give a reason,” said Minsky.

In 1951, Minsky built the Stochastic Neural-Analog Reinforcement Computer, the world’s first neural network simulator. Five years later, he designed and built the first Confocal Scanning Microscope, an optical instrument with remarkable image quality and resolution for its time.

Despite his expertise in the field of artificial intelligence, Minsky was unsure of what to expect as the next big innovation in his field. “There is no particular country or agency doing very well in [the area of artificial intelligence], so it might come from anywhere, from some kids somewhere in some country. [They] might be the big next step,” said Minsky.

Minsky was also one of the co-founders of the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at MIT. In 1985, he became a founding member of the MIT Media Lab and was named the Toshiba Professor of Media Arts and Sciences.

Minsky expressed gratitude for the ample opportunities and resources Andover presented, particularly in the field of mathematics and psychology. He also thanked the teachers that inspired and helped him with any experiments that he wished to pursue.

“If I wanted to do something, I would ask the right person. It was quite remarkable… The secret of getting somewhere [was] to be protegee of someone more powerful,” said Minsky.

Minsky’s contributions to the fields of cognitive psychology, mathematics, computational linguistics, robotics and optics have led him to receive a number of other prestigious distinctions, including the ACM Turing Award, IJCAI Award for Research Excellence, Japan Prize and Benjamin Franklin Medal.