Vassar Today

Vassar Earns Roosevelt Award

By Cynthea Ballard '13
Vassar’s President Catharine Hill (second from right) with award recipients Ann Gloag, Matilda Raffa Cuomo, and Lorraine Roberts.

In October, Vassar College was honored as one of four recipients of the 2011 Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill Medal, along with local activist Lorraine Roberts, Dutch philanthropist Ann Gloag, and founder of Mentoring USA and former first lady of New York State Matilda Raffa Cuomo. The award celebrates those in fields such as education, the arts, philanthropy, and humanitarian work who make contributions to society in the spirit of Eleanor Roosevelt.

Vassar was honored on the occasion of its Sesquicentennial as a “pioneer for achievements in education” and as an “avid proponent of equal education opportunities.”

President Catharine Hill, who accepted the medal on behalf of the college, noted Vassar’s longstanding relationship with Mrs. Roosevelt, whose husband, Franklin, had been a member of the Vassar College Board of Trustees from 1923 until his death. Mrs. Roosevelt continued her involvement with the campus for nearly 40 years, attending the campus’s World Youth Conference and hosting Vassar students at the UN Commission on Human Rights.

Hill also emphasized the spirit of individualism that serves as a thread between Mrs. Roosevelt’s lifework and the ethos that has come to define Vassar as an institution. Said President Hill, “I would like to think it is her lifelong emphasis on the worth and dignity of the individual, and her determination to do everything she could to help achieve that, that most deeply connect Eleanor Roosevelt and Vassar, and, I hope, make our college worthy of an award in her name.”

Reflecting on the philanthropic and humanitarian work for which the medal’s other recipients were recognized, President Hill highlighted Vassar’s continuing commitment to providing those “traditionally underrepresented in higher education” the opportunity to “a first-rate education.” Though Mrs. Roosevelt might not recognize the diverse student body of today’s Vassar College, noted Hill, its commitment to extending opportunity to all is in line with her legacy.

In closing, Hill quoted Roosevelt, stating, “We at Vassar have been criticized over the years for encouraging too much individuality in our students.  That is a criticism we can live with.  After all, as Eleanor Roosevelt put it, ‘Do what you feel in your heart to be right—for you’ll be criticized anyway.’”

The ceremony was held at the Eleanor Roosevelt Historical Site at Val-Kill in Hyde Park, New York.