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Commencement 2005: The Medalists

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Commencement 2005 Medalist

Commencement 2005 Medalist

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The Teachers College Medal for Distinguished Service - "our highest honor, with the exception of the title Professor," President Arthur Levine told his convocation audiences - was given this year to a group of people who have truly lived the College's core values. 

This year, the recipients were actress Ruby Dee and the late actor Ossie Davis, with their daughter and TC alumna Hasna Muhammad receiving the award for her father; Robert Jackson and Michael Rebell, lead figures in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity's lawsuit to bring billions of dollars into New York City schools; Harvard professor Gary Orfield; psychologist Jerome Bruner; folk legend Judy Collins and historian Richard Heffner. The Cleveland E. Dodge Medal for Distinguished Service to Education was presented to philanthropist George Weiss, founder of the Say Yes to Education inner-city scholarship program. The Dodge medal is presented to someone whose work is not in the field of education, but who has worked to improve education in some significant way.

Both Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis have had careers that span almost half a century, actors of stage and screen as well as activists who supported the civil rights movement.  Ruby Dee said that Ossie was probably "hanging from one of the chandeliers," and chanted a poem of inspiration: (break into sidebar?) "Today, today is ours.  Let's live it and love is strong, and let's give it.  A song can help, let's sing it.  And peace is dear, let's bring it.  The past is gone, don't rue it.  Our work is here, let's do it.  Our world is wrong, let's right it.  The battle hard, let's fight it.  The road is rough, let's clear it.  The future's vast, don't fear it.  Is faith asleep?  Let's wake it.  Today, today is ours, today is ours, let's, let's take it."

Hasna Muhammed, daughter of Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee and Teachers College alumna, spoke for her father, who died in February. "I know my father would be very proud. He considered education to be the primary and fundamental tool of life, one that takes from one level of understanding to another."

New York City Councilman Robert Jackson spoke about his efforts leading the CFE campaign, which included a 150-mile walk from New York City to Albany. "This lawsuit will hopefully bring about educational justice for the children of New York City, giving them the money that they need to have the opportunity to be whatever they want to be.  … I only wish that this medal was a check for $14.8 billion because I would gladly hand it over to Mayor Bloomberg" to improve the school system.

Michael Rebell, Executive Director of CFE and School Board 6 Attorney, continued the theme, praising Jackson's tenacity. "Every time I talk about this case and every time people talk about the amounts of money involved, you get the question, … Does that amount of money really matter?  … Yes, it matters because it buys concrete things.  It buys better buildings, it buys up-to-date books, it buys smaller classes.  But most of all, and this is what the courts have repeatedly said, the highest priority that that money can buy is quality teachers.  So that's why I am proud to join with Arthur Levine and Bob Jackson in saying that some of that money needs to be used to raise teachers' salaries."

Gary Orfield is a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and director of The Civil Rights Project at Harvard, an initiative that is developing and publishing a new generation of research on multiracial civil rights issues. He sounded a note of warning about backsliding on civil rights issues in America: "In our schools, we tend to treat civil rights as if it's something that happened in the 1960s … and that we solved it.  And we really don't explain that since that time, we've had seven presidents elected with virtually no black votes, that we have been dismantling our civil rights policies quite systematically, that segregation is increasing in virtually every state in the United States, that desegregation was never accomplished in most of the big cities in the North, and that New York State, for example, is the most segregated state in the United States" in terms of education.

Jerome Bruner is one of the best known and influential psychologists of the twentieth century. He was one of the key figures in the "cognitive revolution" working with giants such as Piaget, and is a seminal figure in education. He asked the Master's students to try to make our culture less punitive: "Rather than celebrating where we've come, I want to celebrate rather the fact that we've now reached the point where we can recognize our problems, and I hope that in the years ahead, we in the educational field can start thinking, ‘What can we do with kids early on and through the rest of their career, to take the punitiveness, the over-competitiveness, and the rest of it out of our systems and sort of recapture some aspect of the hope and optimism and compassion that goes with being an American?' "

Richard Heffner's television show, "The Open Mind," began when Eisenhower was president. Through the decades Heffner has interviewed many of the influential figures who have shaped America's national history. Heffner warned that the ideals fostered since the Roosevelt era were being undone, and asked the students to fight back, "We simply must not be such hapless fools as to be bamboozled into not recognizing what is happening to the best of the American tradition, into not battling with all the means at our disposal against this incredibly destructive counter-revolution, organized by people who have waited so bitterly since 1932 to undo what I once innocently considered a permanent Roosevelt Revolution."

Famous folk singer Judy Collins, among her many awards, won "Song of the Year" at the 1975 Grammy Awards for "Send in the Clowns" Collins sang Amazing Grace for the Master's students and spoke about some lessons she had learned in her career: "I heard a wonderful writer from the South say, ‘The story always knows more than the storyteller.'  Whatever your story is, tell it.  Whatever your passion is, whatever you have found that lights your fire, do it.  Thank you for honoring me today."

For more information on the medalists.

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