Congrats to AAVC's Latest Round of Honorees
On Friday, October 18, the AAVC Board bestowed awards upon two Vassar greats at a joint dinner with Vassar’s Board of Trustees.
The 2019 Spirit of Vassar Award went to dance educator and change agent Russell Baker ’91. The award is given annually to an alum who has brought about positive, transformative societal change in the world. Russell exemplifies this ethos. As director of the National Dance Institute (NDI) of New Mexico, he develops and oversees programs that present arts and healthy lifestyle activities to thousands of underserved children in urban, rural, and Native American communities.
Russell’s journey certainly demonstrates the power of a Vassar education to open new pathways. An English major, Russell had never danced before coming to Vassar, but after taking his first ballet class as a student, dance became an unexpected passion. He went on to build a career with the Kansas City Ballet.
While on campus, Russell met with Vassar students in a conversation facilitated by dance chair John Meehan. He later held a dance workshop for local students with the Center for Creative Education of Kingston, NY. Watching clips of the workshops, I was bowled over by the warmth and exuberance he displayed in working with the children on routines that exercised their bodies … and minds.
We also honored Robert K. Brigham, the Shirley Ecker Boskey Professor of History and International Relations with the 2019 Outstanding Faculty/Staff Award. Bob, who has taught at Vassar for more than two decades, is one of the nation’s leading academic experts on the Vietnam War. He is the author or co-author of no less than nine acclaimed books.
One of those books—Argument Without End: In Search of Answers to the Vietnam Tragedy, which he co-wrote with former Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara and James G. Blight—became the focus of a regional program that was presented to Vassar alums in 12 cities across the country and abroad. But Bob has contributed to other regional programs and has led many fully subscribed Vassar Travel Programs to Vietnam.
During his acceptance speech, Bob revealed that he had recently discovered his biological father had been a war photographer in Vietnam. It was an astounding revelation, considering the focus of his work. During his next Vassar Travel tour of Vietnam in the spring, he will use his father’s photographs to help tell the story of war in that country.
I urge you to read more about the recipients and view a video about the award ceremony and Baker’s campus visit. You’ll see why we were so excited to welcome Russell and Bob into the ranks of AAVC honorees.
Stephen Hankins ’85, P’13, ’17
President, Alumnae/i Association of Vassar College
Photos by Karl Rabe.