Announcements, News

Middlebury recognized students, alumni, faculty, and community partnerships at the 30th annual Patrick J. Durkin, Class of 1979, Public Service Leadership Awards. The ceremony, hosted by the Center for Community Engagement (CCE), took place on April 26 at the Kirk Center.

“This evening is really one of Middlebury’s most significant traditions because we are honoring our students’ work in a community that we call home,” said President Laurie Patton in her welcoming remarks. “Wherever you are, you are deepening a sense of home for all of us.” She noted that entering into communities with empathy, intercultural understanding, and civic responsibility is essential to the idea of conflict transformation.

Patton also thanked community partners who work closely with Middlebury students to deepen their educational experience. “Local community partners are our fellow educators, our inspirations for the work we are doing in Addison County,” she said. “That shared educational partnership is at the core of Middlebury’s mission and Middlebury education.” Patton closed with some words from Patrick J. Durkin ‘79, for whom the awards are named: “It is from unaccountable acts of kindness, hard work, and at times courage that sets in motion waves of positive action that together shape the character of individuals, a college, a community, a nation, and the world. Thanks for being part of the wave.”

This evening is really one of Middlebury’s most significant traditions because we are honoring our students’ work in a community that we call home.
— Laurie Patton, President

Kristen Durkin, wife of the late Patrick Durkin ’79 spoke about her husband’s legacy and what the Public Service Leadership Awards meant to him. Kristen also shared some advice with current students, emphasizing the importance of relationships in public service. “One of Patrick’s gifts was making people feel seen and known. He liked working on big issues but never forgot that the little things that make people feel valued and cared for are the most important. Like Patrick, you have made deep and meaningful relationships in your work that we honor tonight. Remember that while social change may sometimes move at a snail’s pace, you can change a person’s day right away with kindness.”

A group of students poses for a photo holding award certificates.
Students, faculty, staff, and alumni were honored for their public service at a ceremony on April 26 at the Kirk Center. (Credit: Brett Simison )

The keynote speaker for the evening was Associate Provost LeRoy Graham, who also serves as a captain and volunteer firefighter with the Middlebury Volunteer Fire Department. Graham spoke about the deep and long relationship between Middlebury College students and the Middlebury Volunteer Fire Department, including two alumni who volunteered with the department as students and recently moved back to Middlebury and rejoined the Fire Department. Graham reflected on how Middlebury College’s mission sets students up for a life of service. “Living a consequential life and contributing to the community are ultimately about the giving of oneself. But it can also be saying hello or smiling to a stranger or taking the time to talk with a neighbor or an old friend. The time we spend with others – in giving our talents, our empathy, our spirit – is consequential.”

The following students were award winners recognized at the 2023 Patrick J. Durkin, Class of 1979, Public Service Leadership Awards. The first four awards are named in honor of individuals with special relationships to Middlebury College, many of whom were in attendance either in person or over Zoom. Six additional Public Service Leadership Awards recognize students or student groups for their distinct commitment to and leadership in public service, and encourage continued pursuits of their engagement well after graduation and throughout their lives. This year, the Center for Community Engagement also presented two new awards: the Patrick J. Durkin, Class of 1979, Public Service Alumni Leadership Award and the Award for Community Engaged Teaching and Scholarship.

Man in firefighting uniform stands at lectern to deliver remarks.
Associate Provost LeRoy Graham, who also serves as a captain with the Middlebury Volunteer Fire Department, spoke of the College’s deep connection with the community at the Public Service Leadership Awards ceremony. (Credit: Brett Simison )

Named Awards

The Dana Morosini Reeve (’84, P’14) Endowed Memorial Public Service Award is given to the student who best exemplifies Dana’s spirit and determination as she tirelessly and selflessly devoted her life to caring for her husband Christopher Reeve and, through the Christopher Reeve Foundation, to her work as an advocate for all those with spinal cord injuries. Damaris Neaves ’24 was presented with this award for her commitment to migrant justice through advocacy, education, and community building across multiple co-curricular and curricular endeavors. Neaves is president of Juntos, the campus/migrant solidarity network, and has been involved in both the Compas (English tutoring) and Community Outreach branches. In Fall 2022, Neaves also worked as the Community-Connected Project Assistant for Professor Olga Sanchez Saltveit’s Creative Process class, fostering connections with local migrant, Catholic, artistic, and culinary communities to develop a series of Dia de los Muertos events. Through this experience, Neaves helped create spaces for communal grieving, celebrating life and death and honoring departed loved ones, and learning about this rich Mexican tradition. Neaves was also awarded a Cross Cultural Community Engagement grant to teach English in Costa Rica.

The John M. McCardell Jr. Public Service Leadership Award, which recognizes a student who best exemplifies efforts that bring Middlebury, both the College and the town, closer together for public benefit, was presented to Hong Nguyen ’25 for her dedication to improving the lives of the local community through a wide range of commitments. Nguyen spends time with elders at the Helen Porter Nursing Home as a Patient Companion, volunteers on the medical/surgical floor at Porter Hospital, and mentors youth growing up in low-income housing through The DREAM Program. Nguyen is also an active member of Radical Asians (RAISINS) and the Sunday Night Environmental Group (SNEG). Nguyen has been committed to building sustainable community connections between community members both on and off campus.

The Bonnie McCardell Public Service Award is awarded to a student who exemplifies outreach in youth and family services, literacy, and/or the special needs of middle and early high schoolers. This award was presented to Edyth Moldow ’23, who has been the Co-President of Page One Literacy Project for three years. In her position, Moldow helps collaborate with local schools and libraries to promote a love of reading and learning. Moldow leads a student Board that plans and delivers read-alouds, craft kits, and other activities for young children to develop their literacy. Moldow has helped navigate challenges due to the pandemic, and has been a thoughtful, steadfast, and reliable leader.

The Tiffany Nourse Sargent ’79 Engaged Partnership Award honors an educational partnership between Middlebury College and a community organization to address community needs. This year, the partnership between Sunshine Schools in India and Language in Motion at Middlebury College were presented with this award for their service to make high-quality education more accessible to children from low-income families in India. In particular, Anjana Giridhar ’23 and alum Vikas Jhunjhunwala ’96 were recognized for their efforts to connect Middlebury College students with children at the Sunshine Schools, including developing and delivering virtual programming for children at Sunshine School, and later, collaborating with students in a J-Term Hindi class to develop programming and further their own learning.

Public Service Leadership Honors

Gabriella Chalker ’24 was recognized for her commitment to community and civic engagement through the Center for Community Engagement’s (CCE) Community-Connected Learning course. Chalker took this course in Spring 2021 and worked with the nonprofit organization HOPE (Helping Overcome Poverty’s Effects in Addison County) to create a map of services available to individuals living in poverty. Since that spring, Chalker has remained involved in this course every semester since as a Project Assistant. In this role, Chalker supports student learning– helping to support and advise students in the course, develop reflective spaces for students to think about their projects in the context of civic engagement, and share her own learning and experiences from her time in the class. Chalker also helped plan and coordinate the CCE’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day Legacy Dinner, developing marketing and social media materials that helped share the legacy of historical civic rights leaders. Chalker also received a Cross Cultural Community Engagement grant and traveled to Rwanda to work with the conservation and community health agency, GlobeMed.

Gwen Orme ’23 and Katie Cantrell ’23 were honored for their commitment to Community Friends, a 1:1 mentoring program that connects Middlebury College students to youth in the community. Orme and Cantrell both became mentors in their first semester at Middlebury (2019), and were quickly required to pivot to virtual mentoring activities with their mentees. They both joined the board soon after that in order to commit even more time to Community Friends, and have served as Co-Lead Student Coordinators for Community Friends since Spring 2022. Orme and Cantrell helped mentors navigate community mentoring post-pandemic, as restrictions were just being lifted and everything was returning to in-person. They brought an infectious energy to Community Friends, and have successfully grown the organization to the largest its ever been in its 63-year history.

Gayathri Mantha ’25 received an award for her work with the Addison County Public Defender and Addison County Restorative Justice Services (ACRJS). Mantha worked with these agencies as a 2022 summer intern through the Privilege & Poverty Academic Cluster. During her internship, Mantha was dedicated to learning as much as possible about the justice system and restorative justice practices, attending court hearings and playing a role in restorative panels and the Circles of Support & Accountability (COSA) program. After her internship ended, Mantha remained connected with ACRJS, joining its Board of Directors, serving as Board Secretary, assisting program participants with budgeting, and continuing to volunteer on a COSA team.

Co-leaders of a Middlebury Alternative Break (MAlt) trip to Guatemala Javier Marino ’25 and Maya Teiman ’25 won an award for bringing eleven of their fellow Middlebury students on the immersive learning experience. Marino and Teiman planned, coordinated, and led the entire trip process, constantly putting their community connections first. Marino and Teiman went above and beyond the duties of a MAlt trip leader to ensure trip participants were supported and felt comfortable with their host families, reflected on their experience as a group, and found meaningful and ethical ways to share their stories about their immersive experience. Part of what makes Marino and Teiman’s work so impressive is the fact that they helped rebuild a program that had been entirely remote for two years due to the pandemic.

Three students were recognized for their work on the Democracy Initiatives team: Ethan Schmitt ’24.5, Laura McDow ’26, and Daniza Tazabekova ’26. The three collaborated to bring their diverse perspectives and strengths together to strengthen civic engagement right here on campus– working with other students to bring political candidates on campus to encourage civic participation, held voter registration drives, drafted emails to elected officials, drove students to the polls and town meetings, and planned an election night watch party. Their leadership has helped strengthen campus culture around civic engagement.

Patrick Wachira ’23 received an award for his commitment to community engagement around the world. On campus, Wachira has been involved in Community Friends, Language in Motion, Page One, Middlebury Alternative Breaks, and other peer support roles. Wachira has also developed his own community engagement experiences while at Middlebury. Most notably, Wachira connected two different group of high school students–one in his home country of Kenya and one in Bristol, VT–to meet and learn from each other, practice creative writing, and decolonize identity. Most recently, Wachira has been developing a collaborative leadership training for youth in Tanzania.

New Awards for 2023

Awarded for the first time in 2023, the Patrick J. Durkin, Class of 1979, Public Service Alumni Leadership Award was given to two alumni who have demonstrated a dedication to the common good through significant collaborative contributions in public service and leadership: Chris Wood ’88 and Rachel Sider ’14. Wood has dedicated his life to conservation efforts and has served in many different capacities and across political aisles to impact the protection of land and water in the US. Wood was the Senior Policy and Communications Advisor to the Chief of the US Forest Service and helped orchestrate the passage of the 2001 Roadless Rule, which prohibited land construction and timber harvesting on 58.5 million acres on National Forest System lands in 39 states. Wood has also worked with Trout Unlimited and led a 15-year effort to stop construction of the Pebble Mine in Alaska, saving the watershed system that produces half of all wild sockeye salmon in the world. Sider has served her life in solidarity with refugee, migrant, and New American families in Addison and Chittenden Counties. Sider was also the 2013 Campus Compact Newman Civic Fellow and a Projects for Peace grant recipient. In the almost 10 years since graduating Middlebury, Sider has used research, media, and advocacy to shape foreign aid assistance and policymaking to better address the needs and rights of civilians affected by conflict and disasters. Sider has been based in Iraq, Palestine, and Syria working with communities to render their needs and voices more influential in emergency responses. Sider is now the head of the Executive Office of Interpeace, an international peacebuilding organization in Geneva focusing on the systemic change required to prevent and end conflict.

Dr. Kristin Bright, Assistant Professor in Anthropology, received the inaugural Public Service Leadership Award for Community Engaged Teaching and Scholarship. Community engagement is central to Bright’s work as an applied anthropologist, and she strives to make a tangible difference in people’s access to health care. Over the course of her career, Bright has helped field a statewide substance use prevention program in California, designed and led community-engaged clinical research for advanced breast cancer, and conducted a policy guidance assessment study with 70 experts on expedited access to life-saving cancer therapeutics. At Middlebury, Bright developed and leads the Body Online Lab to make anthropology and health care research more accessible, and works with teams of students to design and deliver relational health workshops with students at Middlebury Union and Mount Abraham Union High Schools.

About the Patrick J. Durkin Awards

Patrick J. Durkin was a member of the Class of 1979 and founder of the Public Service Leadership Awards. Durkin, who died by suicide in the summer of 2020, understood the importance of public service and helped Middlebury build collaborative relationships with local, national, and international communities. He helped Middlebury celebrate service and civic leadership and aimed to provide the same recognition for students dedicated to public service as those who achieve excellence in academics, athletics, or the performing arts. In Durkin’s honor, the awards were officially renamed the Patrick J. Durkin, Class of 1979, Public Service Leadership Awards in 2021.

With support from the Durkin Fund, the CCE will make $500 donations on behalf of each award winner to a nonprofit organization of their choice. The Durkin Fund supports these awards and other CCE programs that foster student public service leadership. As of this year, the CCE will have recognized a total of 238 students through these awards and distributed $75,100 to nonprofit organizations designated by the student award recipients.

If you or someone you know is experiencing mental illness, please seek support from Middlebury Counseling and MiddTelehealth, or the National Suicide Life Line and the Crisis Text Line.