Honorees of 2023 Alumni Award of Distinction Share High School Experiences at ASM

Pictured above from left to right is Paula Cabellero ’80, Elaine Finbury AA’68, and Peter Saji ’96.

Sustainability advocate Paula Caballero ’80, historic preservationist Elaine Finbury AA’68, and television writer Peter Saji ’96 received the 2023 Andover Alumni Award of Distinction at All-School Meeting (ASM) on October 27. The award is distributed by the Alumni Council annually to Andover and Abbot graduates “who have served with distinction in their fields of endeavor.” The Phillipian has written on the alumni experiences visiting classes on page __.

The writer of the sitcoms “Black-ish” and “Mixed-ish,” Saji had always harbored a passion for creative writing, but only discovered filmmaking during his last term at Andover. Through an elective about video production, Saji produced his first short film and screened it at a film festival at the end of the term. He described how that experience sparked his love for filmmaking.

“I remember sitting in the very back row so I could see the entire auditorium watching the movie, and I was so nervous about how they were going to react to it. I was just very invested in the success of this short film. And the people really dug it. I remember exhaling and realizing I [was] holding my breath. It was a joke film, people were cheering or laughing, and I remember thinking: This is what I want to do,” said Saji.

Saji discussed his writing process and the evolution of his pieces. He mentioned how he focuses on telling a story through his writing, rather than contriving a story to accommodate one particular message.

“[Writing] is about the story. If there’s a message that naturally comes out of this story, then that’s great to me. But especially at times right now, where things are so polarized, I feel like more than ever, it’s important not to shy away from things. It’s important to start with a story. The universal story can connect people, but a message pretending to be a story can just further divide people,” said Saji.

The current Regional Managing Director for Latin America at The Nature Conservancy and creator of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Caballero explained how Andover equipped her with the skills necessary for her work today.

“Andover structures and gives you the tools, the capacity to analyze, to synthesize, to write, to think in a very different way. I feel that all my studies afterwards just flowed so much because of this incredible training I had at Andover. Andover was a decisive force in my life, no question, and it was a real privilege [to attend],” said Caballero.

Finbury’s many preservation projects include the rehabilitation of Essex House and the rehabilitation of McKeen Memorial Hall. As a scholar of architectural history, Finbury encouraged students to learn about the history of Andover and appreciate the beauty of Andover’s campus.

“I would like Andover students to know their story a little better, know their buildings a little better. We have some fine buildings that very famous architects [designed], and I bet most of those students on this campus have no idea… I think if Andover students invest that time [to know] where they’re learning, then wherever they go in life, they’ll invest that time in their communities and become more aware about where they live,” said Finbury.

Finbury continued, “I’d also like to make sure that the students on this campus find their place, a beautiful place that they like to walk to, or they like to spend time in, because beautiful places are really important. Beauty is really important.”

Maya Clark ’26 expressed her admiration for each of the three ASM speakers. In particular, she noted Saji’s speech and discussed the importance of his work.

“I’m very into climate change, so I think the first speaker was cool… The second speaker, I thought it was amazing that she really wanted to reuse the old campus that she loved so much and turn it into something that could still be used today… The third guy I personally loved, I’m a big fan of everything he’s done and I’ve watched all his shows. I think all the characters and all the stories he writes are really important because they advocate for social justice while being entertaining to watch,” said Clark.

Caballero pointed to the growing need for drastic action within global structures. She called for students to envision impact on a larger scale, emphasizing the value of the current moment.

“My request to young people who have the privilege of this amazing education is to really understand to what degree we are all part of perpetuating these same systems, and the same approaches, and this comfort zone in which we operate…that we’re just tweaking systems when we need wholesale transformation… We have to make hard choices, as individuals, as society, as companies, and the time is now… It is now because we need to align the finance, and the policies, and the markets in ways that have never been done before. If we all think that we can just ‘adjust’ and do a project here or a little nudge there…we’re not really going to be able to change the trajectory of some of these trends that are so concerning. So I am sanguine, I am hopeful, I do believe that we can [create change]. But I also think that we can only really do it if we wake up to how deeply embedded we are in all these systems, and mindsets, and beliefs that impede us [from] really being able and willing to undertake the kinds of transformations and disruptions that are needed,” said Caballero.