First annual Spirit of Emerson Award held

by Rebecca Fiore / Beacon Staff • April 23, 2014

President M. Lee Pelton presented a Spirit of Emerson Award to Abby Travis.
President M. Lee Pelton presented a Spirit of Emerson Award to Abby Travis.

The first annual Spirit of Emerson Award was presented by President M. Lee Pelton on Tuesday, April 22 to part time faculty member Abby Travis for her contributions to Emerson and to Tamera Marko, Suzanne Hinton, and Ryan Catalani for their work with Proyecto Boston-Medellin.

According to the school’s website, the award will be given annually to either individuals or groups who have exemplified the spirit of the college.

“The winners showed their excellence by bringing a greater visibility to Emerson in the Boston and global community and by making a difference,” said Thomas Cooper, creator of the awards and visual and media arts professor.

Cooper said there were over 30 nominations this year, which were submitted to a selection committee in January.

Rabbi Al Axelrad, the head of the committee, picked the winners along with undergraduate and graduate students, other faculty, alumni, and staff.

Cooper said Axelrad was asked to chair the team because of his involvement with the Emerson community as a professor and previous head of Spiritual Life at the school.

“Rabbi Al is often perceived by many people as the spirit of Emerson,” Cooper said. “He still is someone who advises students and counsels them at every level.”

During the 10-minute ceremony, Pelton congratulated Travis, who graduated in December 2013  with an MFA in creative writing, for her excellence in teaching in the first-year writing program and emersonWRITES, a free creative writing outreach class for Boston public high schools students.

“She has demonstrated the highest levels of compassion and creativity,” Pelton said. “She is an innovator, teacher, writer, and scholar.” 

He acknowledged Travis’ literary essays, which have been featured in Rain Taxi and The Rectangle, both online book review websites.

Pelton joked to the crowd, “I don’t know when you get any sleep.”

In an interview with the Beacon, Travis said she was surprised to have won, since she never considered her work to be solely for the school.

“The award puts a lot of emphasis on Emerson,” she said. “I’m just doing things I care about.”

The second award went to Proyecto Boston-Medellin, a multimedia transnational exhibition and part of the first-year writing program created by students, faculty, and staff members of the college. The three leaders to accept the award were Marko, the founding director; Hinton, director of service learning and community action; and Catalani, a junior visual and media arts major and managing editor and design director for the Beacon.

“The presentation of their work on the 10th floor of the Walker Building transformed that space into a gallery like no other, viewed by 1,500 people in five months,” Pelton said.

The November exhibit showcased 11 Colombian artists’ work with topics ranging from water scarcity, to the sexualization of young girls, to living in areas of ongoing forced displacement, said Pelton.

Marko told the Beacon that over a month ago she was informed of her win via a phone call from Rabbi Axelrad.

“He left one of the longest and most meaningful phone messages I have ever received in my life,” she said. “I think that embodies what the Spirit of Emerson Award means. It is not just about recognition for work done or affirmation that it is well done. I felt that it was about a sincere solidarity with not just a project but the values that embody that project and the people the project impacts.”