Alumnae/i Association of Vassar College (AAVC) Award Presentations

By Stephen Hankins ’85, P’13,’17, President of the AAVC
With Sharon Chang ’84, P’19, Alumnae/i Recognition Committee Chair

September 4, 2019

Thank you, President Bradley, and good afternoon, everyone.

The Vassar vanguard. The label seems almost repetitive, doesn’t it? Vassar was in the vanguard at its founding in 1861—the first college for women created just 2 months before the Civil War. The College created history again in 1969—50 years ago this fall—when it admitted men. And in the 2000s, we made history supporting Vassar Vets and establishing a commitment to providing access to a Vassar education that we all must be proud of today.

My great-grandmother, Class of 1906, was in the vanguard, the first woman in her family from rural Ohio to attend college. (The men had gone to college for generations before that.) This chapel was just 2 years old in 1906, the 4 quad dorms had just been completed, there were no Jewett, Joselyn, or Cushing Houses, the Cornaro stained glass window was still being installed in Thompson Library. When I attended Vassar, Walker Field house was the greatest new thing. And when my daughters attended Vassar the Bridge for Lab Sciences was designed, funded and built.

What will be the big new thing when you are here? Watching an institute for liberal arts be born? Picking the architect for a new health and wellness center? Establishing a major in virtual reality? One of you will be standing where I am in 35 years—what will you talk about as cutting vanguard, even at Vassar’s high standards for rebellion, revolution, and forward thinking?

Each year at Convocation, the AAVC Board selects Vassar graduates to be presented with two awards, for achievements that exemplify our College’s ideals. It is my distinct privilege to introduce today’s honorees. The awardees we are celebrating today set the bar high within Vassar’s own unique vanguard.

The AAVC Young Alumnae/i Achievement Award is given in recognition of an alum who has graduated within the past ten years—and whose personal and professional achievements already have had a significant impact within their chosen field.

This year, for the first time, the award is being presented to a group of alumni—a team, in fact, who started working together right here at Vassar, when they were students. In 2014, Jacob Adelgren, Alejandro Dinsmore, and Harris Gordon of the Class of 2015, and Matthew Griffiths and Casey Hancock of the Class of 2016, became key members of the start-up team for a company now called EEVO—that’s short for Entertainment Evolved.

EEVO has developed software and B2B capability to distribute virtual-reality content such as movies, advertisements, educational tools—and who knows what else will develop?—to mass audiences. The start-up team originally envisioned a sort of YouTube for virtual reality, a place on the Internet where anyone could post virtual-reality content, but nowadays EEVO’s business model is something more akin to Netflix, as the company is working with, and licensing content from, providers who are producing top-quality virtual-reality products. EEVO CEO Alejandro Dinsmore was quoted in Tech Crunch as saying that the company’s goal was to democratize the creation and delivery of immersive experiences. EEVO provides a toolset that each of us can use to create interactive experiences—its client experience showcase includes a transfixing Elegy for Ancestors created by an artistic collaborative to serve as a memorial to victims of police violence and a patient hospital training program for patients to get a feel for how their upcoming procedure may go.

It’s worth noting that two other Vassar alums Robert Green of the Class of 1990 and Jordan Hoffner of the Class of 1991, are members of EEVO’s board of advisors. Mr. Green, who was instrumental in connecting the firm with investors, says, “The secret to the success of any start-up is a combination of timing, luck, and skill, and these guys had all three.” Forbes magazine agrees, because this year several of EEVO’s founders were named to the magazine’s 30 Under 30 list for Media.

I would therefore like to ask Sharon Davidson Chang, Class of 1984, a fellow Vassar parent, and Chair of the AAVC Board’s Alumnae/i Recognition Committee, to join me on the stage. On behalf of the AAVC, Sharon and I are very pleased to present the AAVC Young Alumnae/i Achievement Award to 5 members of the Vassar vanguard, who bring virtual reality to all, who exemplify brave thinking, tenacious entrepreneurialism, and who epitomize the heights that we can reach when we work together as a team: Jacob Adelgren, Alejandro Dinsmore, Harris Gordon, Matthew Griffiths, and Casey Hancock.

(after the Young Alumnae/i Achievement Award)

Now, the stage must be set for our next awardee. Park Avenue, New York City in the 1950s was a row of masonry buildings with ornate facades, cornices and pediments meant to the evoke the past—not the future. New to the States was the former leader of the Bauhaus movement, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Mies, as he is called now by his followers, was brought to New York to design a building so revolutionary in its use of structure as décor, its public spaces, and its quality of construction, that it remains today, 60 years later, a centerpiece in every art history class. How did this come to be? Well, the winner of the next AAVC award winner can tell you.

The AAVC Award for Distinguished Achievement is presented each year to an alum who has reached the highest level in their field. While demonstrating exceptional talent, application, creativity and skill within a certain career, this individual must at the same time exemplify the ideals of a liberal arts education, and have used her or his position of visibility, power or leadership to better the human community and serve the wider goals of society.

Phyllis Bronfman Lambert, a member of Vassar’s Class of 1948, has most certainly done both. Ms. Lambert came from her home city of Montreal to Vassar to study art history; but even then, she says, “I dreamed of creating monumental sculpture in the public realm: Architecture would be the answer, but I did not know this yet.”

Her opportunity came in the 1950s, when she persuaded her father, Samuel Bronfman, that she should be the director of planning for the new Seagram’s headquarters building in New York City. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was retained as architect, and he found in the young Vassar graduate an invaluable ally who played a pivotal role in ensuring that Mies’s vision became a reality. The result was the Seagram’s Building on Park Avenue, still widely regarded as a classic of modern architecture.

That alone would have been enough to ensure Phyllis Lambert a place in the annals of architecture, but much, much more was to come. After earning her master’s in architecture from the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, she returned to Montreal, where she found her love for the city’s greystone buildings rekindled—and was appalled by the ongoing demolition of historic structures in the city. She became a vocal leader of citizen-activist groups seeking to preserve Montreal’s architectural heritage, and an organizer of housing cooperatives to save low-income neighborhoods.

Globally, she established herself as a leader in social issues of urban conservation and the role of architecture in the public realm. For example, she worked on changing the city of Chicago’s plan to replace Bronzeville, a neighborhood rich in Black cultural history, with new high-rises. She was largely responsible for creating and sustaining the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal, known as the world’s leading architectural museum and study center. She achieved all of this at a time when the world of architecture was thoroughly dominated by men.

When he bestowed on her the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement Award at the Venice Biennale, Rem Koolhaas said: “Architects make architecture. Phyllis Lambert made architects.”

Ms. Lambert’s honors are many and impressive. The recipient of 23 honorary degrees, she is also an officer of the Order of Canada, and a chévalier of the Ordre National de Quebec and of the Ordre des Arts et Lettres de France. She’s been presented with the Twenty-Five Year Award and the Award of Honor of the American Institute of Architects, and the Gold Medal of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, that nation’s highest architectural award. She also has received awards from the Governor General of Canada for her contributions to the cultural life of the country, and from the Government of Quebec for museology and conservation.

(Sharon comes up again) We would like to take this opportunity to add Vassar’s own recognition to that long and distinguished list. Ms. Lambert, on behalf of the AAVC, and everyone here, I want to thank you for your work at the front of the Vassar Vanguard, for bringing us great architects, for fighting the establishment to bring us the Seagram Building, for helping the world see why good architecture matters, and for preserving architectural heritage around the world. Sharon Chang and I are honored to present you with The AAVC Award for Distinguished Achievement.

(after Ms. Lambert’s award)

What will tomorrow bring? That is the question that these awardees not only asked but answered. Each of you has the opportunity to join them in the Vassar vanguard. In no time, you will be standing where I am, or where they are, celebrating the accomplishments of your fellow Vassar vanguard members. Until then, I leave you with the age-old Vassar greeting and farewell:

Vassar Always, and Always Vassar.