Service Beyond the Academy: Andover Presents Alumni Awards of Distinction

AAAD Recipient Tamar Szabo Gendler ’83, center, stands onstage during ASM along with Su Chermayeff ’21, Grace Hitchcock ’20, Jess Blumental ’19, and Chris August ’76, vice chair of the Alumni Council Committee.

Generations of Andover alumni took the stage at this week’s All-School Meeting (ASM), during which three Andover alumni were awarded the Andover Alumni Award of Distinction (AAAD). Over the course of two days, recipients of the AAAD were recognized through a podcast, a dinner event, and the ASM.

The recipients this year were Michael Beschloss ’73, a presidential historian and author; Peter Chermayeff  ’53, P ’78, ’88, ’04, GP ’11, an architect with a focus in environmental design; Tamar Szabo Gendler ’83, Dean of Faculty of Arts and Sciences and Professor of Philosophy at Yale University; and Eileen Christelow  ’61, a children’s book author. Each received the award for their “service with distinction and exhibition of leadership in the arts, sciences, humanities,” as Chris Auguste ’76, the vice chair of the Alumni Council Committee, said during ASM.

The ASM began with an introduction of Chermayeff,  Szabo Gendler, and Christelow. While not on campus this fall, Beschloss will recieve his award in 2019.

Chermayeff was introduced and presented with his award by his great-niece, Su Chermayeff ’21.

“Peter is a renowned architect who began his work in 1962 when he and his team took charge of the cycling, urban design, and the architecture of the New England Aquarium located in Boston. During this project, him and his colleagues founded the Cambridge Seven Associates, which undertook many realms of design,” said Su Chermayeff during the introduction.

During ASM and the awards dinner, Peter Chermayeff discussed his experiences at Andover and the numerous lessons he was taught while attending.

“During the time I was here, I learned the excitement of challenges of all kinds. I feel that this school empowered me to be more adventurous than I was ever inclined to be,” said Peter Chermayeff.

Christelow is a well-known children’s author, illustrator, and photographer. She credited her love for English to some of her experiences at Abbot Academy, including her 11th grade English teacher.

Christelow said, “My English teacher was just wonderful, and part of the reason she was wonderful was, besides being an interesting person, she was also taking graduate classes at Wellesley and I think she brought some of what she was learning mostly into our classroom. And it was quite a different attitude in some ways from some of the other classes we had.”

According to Christelow, her first experience with picture books took place in the library of Abbot Academy.

“I remember being in the library one day and noticing an exhibit of work by other students, and there was one girl who was older than I was, who had written a book and she had illustrated it. To my eyes, it was just magnificent. And I thought ‘if she can do that, maybe I can do something,’” said Christelow.

Christelow was a freelance photographer after college, which led her to becoming an author.

“I was telling stories with photographs. At first it was tell stories with photographs, try to get that perfect photo that tells that story, then eventually it moved to drawing…I tried to draw a book for them. At first it didn’t work too well. But it was a constant learning, trying, not getting it, not getting taken by a publisher. I loved the process so much.”

The third recipient at ASM was Szabo Gendler. One aspect of her job is teaching in the Directed Studies Program at Yale. 

Gendler said, “The Directed Studies Program is a community where we read together a number of the great philosophical and literary and historical works of the western tradition to think about what we tell us about the constancies in inconsistencies of human nature.”

In her acceptance speech, Gendler focused on a theme from Homer’s “The Odyssey.”

Gendler said, “Around this time of year, one of the books that we read [in my class] is Homer’s ‘Odyssey.’ It’s one of the two great founding poems of the western tradition that describes…the journey home of a particular individual from Troy to Ithaca.”

Gendler told the audience, “Treat every moment as if were simultaneously a step along the path to your destination and at the same time your destination itself. Think of this as you leave this room, walk along the paths this greatest campus. They are taking you somewhere. And at every moment of the journey do not lose sight of the fact that there is somewhere else that you want to go. But at each moment along the path notice the beauty of where you are.”

The experiences of the three recipients on campus this fall were also presented in podcasts that were recorded prior to ASM.

For a podcast, Gendler was interviewed by Andrew Housiaux, Currie Family Director of the Tang Institute and Instructor in Philosophy and Religious Studies; Christelow was interviewed by Emily Goss, Children’s and Access Services Librarian; and Peter Chermayeff was interviewed by Maro Chermayeff ’80 P’21, recipient of the 2015 AAAD. 

Housiaux wrote in an email to The Phillipian, “I felt very grateful to have the chance to talk with Dean Gendler. We were able to talk about memories she has from being a faculty child and student at Andover; her intellectual work and the questions that animate it; and central challenges facing institutions of higher education today, specifically question about equity and inclusion and the nature of a college education.”