Beyond Vassar

Way To Go, Vassar!

By Debbie Swartz and Elizabeth Randolph

Reflecting the Values of Eleanor

Geraldine Bond Laybourne '69
Geraldine Bond Laybourne '69

This past October, Geraldine Bond Laybourne ’69 received the Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill Medal Award, which honors individuals and organizations that reflect the ideals of the former First Lady and human rights advocate. The award is bestowed annually by the Eleanor Roosevelt Center at Val-Kill (ERVK).

While an executive at Nickelodeon, Laybourne made the television channel a top choice for children by insisting on intelligent programming. She went on to cofound Oxygen Media, a cable network for young women. In 1996, Laybourne topped the Hollywood Reporter’s list of the 50 most influential women in the entertainment industry, and that same year, TIME named her one of the 25 most influential people in America. 

Laybourne has devoted her time and leadership talents to Vassar, too—after more than a decade on the college’s Board of Trustees, she recently completed a term as president of the Alumnae and Alumni of Vassar College (AAVC) Board of Directors.

ERVK honored Laybourne for her role in women’s leadership. In 2007, she initiated Mentors’ Walks to bring together established and emerging women leaders. 

Laybourne’s friend and classmate Linda Fairstein ’69, a former Manhattan prosecutor and bestselling novelist, said in her introduction during the award ceremony, “Many of us remember that first one, a breakfast traipse through Central Park, each woman assigned to a younger one starting a career in that same field.” (Fellow alumna Meryl Streep ’71 also joined the inaugural Mentors’ Walk.) 

“Gerry has taken that walk to 12 U.S. cities, and through Vital Voices, mentees from 25 countries around the world held their own Mentor’s Walk [in 2014],” she reported.

In accepting the award, Laybourne noted: “I grew up in an Eleanor Roosevelt– worshipping home. We were taught that women were strong, resourceful, and could be counted on, that when women supported each other great things 
can happen.”

Champion of Change for Immigration

Robert Annibale '80
Robert Annibale '80

Each year, the White House Champions of Change award is given to Americans who do “extraordinary things in their communities to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world.” In 2014, the theme was “Promoting Citizenship in the Workplace.”

One recipient was Citigroup’s Global Director of Community Development and Microfinance Robert Annibale ’80. Citigroup is the founding corporate partner of the Cities for Citizenship initiative, which aims to increase citizenship among the nearly nine million eligible permanent residents in the country.

Naturalized citizens earn 45 percent more, on average, than non-citizen immigrants and the poverty rate drops by half when households become citizens, Annibale explains. He also notes that citizenship is the key to ensuring that youth have equal access to scholarships and that seniors are able to access the benefits that they have contributed toward, but which are restricted to only nationals.

“Something clearly occurs in this process of integration that is valuable to these families and the economy of the communities where they live, work, and study,” he says.

The program, currently in partnership with the mayors of New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, is expected to expand to 11 additional cities in 2015 and will also support immigrants who will be seeking legal status in the U.S. in response to President Obama’s recent executive order on immigration.

A Presidential Medal and an Oscar Nod!

Meryl Streep '71
Meryl Streep '71

In November, Meryl Streep ’71 P ’08 P ’10 received the country’s highest civilian honor—the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The medal recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions to U.S. security, world peace, or cultural endeavors. The White House cited Streep’s ability to portray “characters who embody the full range of the human experience.”

Presenting the medal, President Obama elicited laughs from the audience with this earnest declaration: “I love Meryl Streep. Her husband knows I love her. Michelle knows I love her. There’s nothing they can do about it.”

Apparently, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences loves her, too. Having received a record-setting 19 Academy Award nominations during her career—and winning three times—she was most recently nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her role as the witch in Into the Woods, based on the Tony Award-winning musical by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine.

Red Carpet Newcomer

Jason Blum '91
Jason Blum '91

Jason Blum ’91 entered the Oscar scene with a splash this year. His film Whiplash was nominated in four categories, and won in three. J.K. Simmons won in the Best Supporting Actor category for his role as an abusive and violent music teacher, and the film also earned awards for film editing and sound mixing.

Blum may be new to the Oscar scene, but not to the business. He is best known for horror movies like The Purge, Insidious, and Paranormal Activity. It’s a genre he says he first came to appreciate as a film student at Vassar. (Professor Sarah Kozloff’s Hitchcock class did the trick.)

To date, he has more than 75 producing credits, including such recent films as The Lazarus Effect, starring Olivia Wilde, and The Boy Next Door, featuring Jennifer Lopez.

Blum screened Whiplash at Vassar in October and spoke with Film Department students about the business of making movies. His eight most popular films have grossed more than $1 billion at the box office and each had a budget of under $5 million.