Finis Origine Pendet: Recipients of the 2020 Alumni Award of Distinction

Three alumni were virtually honored during the All-School Meeting (ASM) on Monday. Susan Chira ’76, an award-winning journalist, General Barry McCaffrey ’60, a former U.S. Army officer and Clinton administration Cabinet member, and Christine Balling ’86, founder of Fundacion ECCO in Colombia, were awarded with the Andover Alumni Award of Distinction (A.A.D.). 

“[The A.A.D.’s] purpose is to honor alumni of Phillips Academy or Abbot Academy, who served with distinction and exhibited leadership… in significant fields of endeavor… For the three awardees we recognize today, their [Andover] experience was [only] the beginning,” said Emily Bernstein 86, the Chair of the Andover A.A.D. Committee.

Chira, Editor in Chief of The Marshall Project and former Deputy Executive Editor of “The New York Times,” has spent 40 years of her life working in journalism. During her speech, she shared that she was admitted to Andover as a member of the first class after the merger of Andover and Abbot Academy. Chiara connected her experience as one of Andover’s first female students to her career as the first and only woman to serve in the foreign section of “The New York Times,” explaining how she had to be self-confident in both situations.

I was not shy, and [being one of the first girls at Andover] made me even less so, because… in 73, [Andover] wasn’t fully ready for us girls. It didn’t fully understand our equality and our worth… we soon showed that we were intellectual equals, that we were social equals, and it was really heady and exciting,” said Chira.

In 2019, Saffron Agrawal ’21 invited Chira to speak at Andover as a part of the Elizabeth Stuart Phelps Series, which featured women authors as speakers. After hearing Chira speak for the second time, Agrawal shared that she appreciated learning about Andover’s impact on Chira.

Agrawal said, “What resonated with me a lot about Ms. Chira’s talk is about how Andover affects her life and her experience here has had an impact on how she’s approached her career. But then also at the same time… you don’t have to have it all figured out by the end of high school.”

McCaffrey, a Four Star General who served in the U.S. Army for 40 years, is currently a professor at the United States Military Academy (Westpoint). He attended Andover for a postgraduate year and then went on to Westpoint and Harvard University. According to him, Andover was a foundation that served him throughout his life despite being “grossly behind on academics” when he began.

“The notion that the end starts in the beginning is quite true, and the foundation of learning that I got at Andover stayed with me the rest of my life. I might add, the rest of my life, after four years at Westpoint, I had five years of postgraduate education… But, as I look back on it, clearly the most influential keystone of my personal development was my one year at Andover,” said McCaffrey.

As the founder of Fundacion ECCO, a nonprofit encouraging youth engagement with democracy and discouraging involvement with extremist groups, Balling believes she employed Andover values of Non Sibi through her work regarding Colombian political affairs. She spoke about one of her “most ambitious” projects—working with three branches of the Colombian military to airlift 1000 Non Sibi soccer balls and 1000 Non-Sibi teddy bears to kids living in an area where the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia was very active. The operation had nearly failed, as the village parents, in fear of retaliation from the F.A.R.C., did not want their children to be seen near the army outpost, according to Balling. 

“So, the kids… donned their shirts, and went up and down the mountain, going door to door, insisting that the project was their Non Sibi operation, that no one should be afraid, and that everyone should come. And as it happened, they did. [That was] very much an indicator of the power of Non Sibi,” said Balling.

Evalyn Lee ’23 was impressed by the awardees’ Non Sibi spirit, particularly in Balling’s project. After attending ASM, Lee also wanted to emphasize the power of Andover’s values beyond grand accomplishments like those of the speakers.

“I think the alumni were really impressive and accomplished, but I also think that Andover’s values can be enacted in other ways that are not as set on a pedestal or viewed as exclusive but in more ordinary and everyday ways,” said Lee.

Agrawal appreciated the notion of how much Andover can influence the lives, work, and mindset of alumni.

“It’s really nice to know that in the future, we can look forward to having the Andover experience to draw upon throughout our entire lives, and the idea that finis origine pendet really is true,” said Agrawal.