October 09, 2017

Four to receive 2017 Alumni Award of Distinction

The annual award honors alumni for making “significant positive impact on their communities, society, or the world”

The Alumni Council of Phillips Academy has selected four individuals to receive the 2016 Andover Alumni Award of Distinction. First presented in 2012, the annual award honors individual members of the alumni body for making “significant positive impact on their communities, society, or the world.” The honorees will receive the awards on Wednesday, Nov. 8, during All School Meeting.

The 2017 recipients are:

Wallace M. Alston ’83 

Macky Alston, senior vice president at Auburn Seminary, works to equip faith leaders to stand for justice. An award-winning documentary filmmaker, Alston founded Auburn Media in 2002 and has since served as its director, innovating a range of programs related to media and religious media training for more than 6,000 faith leaders—including many of the most influential faith leaders of our day—on a wide range of justice issues.

Alston’s films include Love Free or Die (PBS 2012), Hard Road Home (PBS 2008), The Killer Within (Discovery Films 2006), Questioning Faith (HBO 2002), and Family Name (PBS 1998). Love Free or Die, a feature film about openly gay bishop Gene Robinson and the international firestorm his consecration sparked, premiered and won the Special Jury Prize for an Agent of Change at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. It aired nationally on PBS’s Independent Lens series. Family Name, Alston’s first film, is a personal documentary about coming to terms with his family’s slave-owning past. Alston’s willingness to confront whatever ugly truth might manifest itself about his forbears makes for an intimate look at American history. Family Name premiered in 1997 at Sundance, where it won the Freedom of Expression Award, and later aired on PBS’s POV.

The recipient of the Gotham Open Palm Award for outstanding directorial debut and Emmy Award nominations for three of his films, Alston has appeared widely in the press, including on The Oprah Winfrey Show and The Today Show and in the New York Times.

A graduate of Union Theological Seminary, he comes from a long line of ministers in the American South and grew up exposed to the power of religion, politics, and the media as charismatic leaders on the Left and Right shaped society and history for generations to come.

Alston also serves as Auburn Seminary’s vice president for strategy, engagement, and media and directs a program that equips leaders of faith and moral courage to speak out for justice through the media. 

Dorothy Cheney ’68 

For more than four decades, Dorothy Cheney’s research has focused on the communication and social behavior of non-human primates. Currently, Cheney and husband Robert Seyfarth’s research is conducted on free-ranging baboons in the Okavango Delta, Botswana. This work is well documented in the couple’s book Baboon Metaphysics, published in 2007.

Cheney and her husband earned doctoral degrees from the Sub-Department of Animal Behavior at the University of Cambridge. It was during their first field study, under Robert Hinde, an eminent animal behaviorist at the university, that they first became acquainted with baboons. “We were really lucky to get in at the ground level, because no one had really focused in on individual primates’ social behavior,” says Cheney. “The first person to do this was Jane Goodall, and a lot of scientists criticized her for being overly anthropomorphic and trying to give her study subjects personality. Of course, it turned out she was right.”

After working at Rockefeller University and UCLA, Cheney and Seyfarth moved to the University of Pennsylvania in 1985, where Cheney is currently a professor of biology. She has had significance influence on her graduate and postdoctoral students, who have conducted research on a variety of species, including diana monkeys and mangabeys in the Ivory Coast, spider monkeys in Mexico, and cebus monkeys in Costa Rica.

Prior to her work with baboons, Cheney conducted research on vervet monkeys in Amboseli National Park in Kenya and mountain gorillas in Rwanda. Through the use of playback experiments, Cheney investigated how monkeys perceive and classify their vocalizations and explored kin recognition, reciprocity, and knowledge of other species’ behavior. Her findings are included in Cheney and Seyfarth’s How Monkeys See the World.

Cheney’s work as a biologist and researcher has been widely acclaimed. Among her numerous honors: In 2016, Cheney received the Distinguished Primatologist Award from the American Society of Primatologists and the Distinguished Animal Behaviorist Award from the Animal Behavior Society; in 2015, she was elected to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences—one of the highest honors a scientist can receive—in recognition of her distinguished and continuing achievements in original research; and in 2013, she received an honorary doctorate from the University of Neuchatel, Switzerland. 

George Bundy Smith ’55 

Judge George Bundy Smith served on the New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, for 14 years. Appointed by Governor Mario M. Cuomo in 1992, Smith—the third black judge to serve on the court—authored the 2004 decision that effectively ended the death penalty in New York.

Raised in segregated Washington, D.C., Smith attended Phillips Academy on a scholarship—and was the only black student in his class. He earned a BA degree in history from Yale University in 1959, later graduating from Yale Law School (along with his twin sister, Inez). He earned master’s and doctoral degrees from New York University.

At the urging of Rev. William Sloane Coffin Jr. ’42, Yale University’s chaplain, Smith—still in law school—became part of the first Freedom Ride, which departed from Washington, D.C., on May 4, 1961, and was scheduled to arrive in New Orleans. The black and white Freedom Riders were trying to compel enforcement of the U.S. Supreme Court decision outlawing segregated transportation and help end the discriminatory practice of separate seating on buses and in bus stations. Smith was one of about 10 Freedom Riders arrested when they ordered coffee at a whites-only lunch counter at a bus terminal in Montgomery, Alabama.

Smith’s civil rights activism continued after law school. He joined the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and helped civil rights lawyer Constance Baker Motley draft briefs for student James Meredith’s successful challenge to the University of Mississippi’s refusal to admit black students. He was appointed to the New York Civil Court in 1975 and served as a New York Supreme Court judge from 1980 to 1986 before joining the Appellate Division.

Smith’s numerous awards and honors include an honorary doctor of law degree from Fordham Law School; the Hon. William Brennan Award for Outstanding Jurist, presented by the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers; and the Spirit of Excellence Award from the American Bar Association’s Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity. A former Andover trustee, Smith received the Academy’s Claude Moore Fuess Award in 1985.

The Honorable George Bundy Smith passed away on August 5, 2017, at the age of 80. 

Genevieve Young ’48 

Born in Geneva, Switzerland, Genevieve “Gene” Young moved frequently due to the extensive traveling required by her father’s career as a Chinese diplomat. She and her family also lived in London, Shanghai, and the Philippines, among other global locations. Young was a four-year student at Abbot Academy, graduating in 1948. She then attended Wellesley College, from which she earned a degree in political science in 1952.

Young landed her  first post-college job at Harper & Brothers publishing company as a stenographer—although she claims she could not type and did not know shorthand. She could, however, read and write very well. Young quickly made a name for herself in the male-dominated field of editing. By 1970, she was named executive editor at J.B. Lippincott publishing company and was eventually named vice president. Since then, she has served as senior editor of Little, Brown and Company, editor in chief of Literary Guild of America, vice president and editorial director of Bantam Books, and lecturer at the Center for Publishing at New York University. A former Phillips Academy alumni trustee, Young credits the academic rigor at Abbot Academy for helping to prepare her for her literary career.

Young has volunteered for multiple associations throughout her professional career. These organizations include Meserve-Kunhardt Foundation, dedicated to the preservation of photography and the use of it to inform, educate, and inspire; Literacy New York, which assists community-based literacy programs for the underserved; Youth Counseling League, which provides confidential assistance for troubled youth and their families; and Women’s Media Group, a New York–based nonprofit that mentors young women interested in publishing careers.

Currently, Young is enjoying retirement, but she still does some freelance manuscript editing. She enjoys visiting museums and galleries, attending theatre performances, ballroom dancing, traveling, and spending time with her large family—including her sister, Shirley Young, Abbot Academy Class of 1951. 

Categories: Alumni

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