A Day to Celebrate Public Service
May 2, 2022
Helene Gayle received the Maxwell School’s inaugural Spirit of Public Service Award during an Awards of Excellence event in Washington, D.C., on a momentous day: Just hours earlier and only a few miles away, on Thursday, April 7, Ketanji Brown Jackson was confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court. “To be able to get this award on the same day as a historic vote to put the first Black woman on the Supreme Court of the United States of America—it doesn’t get any better than that,” said Gayle, who was met with applause and cheering from an audience of Maxwell alumni, faculty, staff and friends. “This is truly a day to celebrate public service in all of its forms and all of its facets.”
Gayle, president and chief executive officer of The Chicago Community Trust, was one of four honorees celebrated at the first annual event, held at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)—home to the school’s Washington, D.C., programs. The event was emceed by Maxwell Advisory Board member and Presidential Medal of Freedom honoree Donna Shalala ’70 M.S.Sc./’70 Ph.D. (SSc)/’87 Hon., who previously served as secretary of Health and Human Services under President Bill Clinton and was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Shalala called Gayle an “extra ordinary public servant.” An expert on global development, humanitarian and health issues, Gayle is president and chief executive officer of The Chicago Community Trust. She previously led the international humanitarian organization CARE, spent 20 years with the Centers for Disease Control, and directed programs on HIV/AIDS and other global health issues at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. She has received 18 honorary degrees, recently received the Chicago Mayor’s Medal of Honor for her work on COVID relief and recovery, and she has been named one of Forbes’ “100 Most Powerful Women.”
In addition to Gayle, Maxwell honored alumni: Ken Auletta ’65 M.A. (PSc), Keome Rowe ’16 M.P.A./M.A. (IR) and, posthumously, Charles V. Willie ’57 Ph.D. (Soc)/’92 Hon. In his opening remarks, Dean David M. Van Slyke told the audience, “When we established our awards of excellence our goal was to highlight you, our alumni, and your exceptional work advancing the public good.”
Auletta received the Maxwell 1924 Award, named for Maxwell’s founding year and established to honor an alumnus for distinguished professional and civic leadership and achievement in the spirit of the school’s mission. For decades, he has written about the media business and the movers and shakers of the information age, as the “Annals of Communications” columnist and profile writer for The New Yorker and a best-selling author. His profiles of media moguls such as Barry Diller, Rupert Murdoch, Ted Turner and Michael Eisner, and his reporting on the inner workings of Microsoft, Google, Facebook and more led the Columbia Journalism Review to call Auletta the country’s premier media critic.
“When I entered the Maxwell School, I expected not to be a writer but to serve in government,” he said. “I learned many things at Maxwell: It trained me to dig deeper, to respect facts, to accept complexity.”
Journalism, he said, “is a public calling, the way government is.” “One of the essential checks and balances for government—or for anyone, be it a justice, a Hollywood actor, a studio head or head of a media company—is the press,” he added.
Rowe, a foreign service officer with the U.S. Department of State, was honored with the Maxwell Compass Award, created to recognize an early-career alumnus for exceptional accomplishments and professional or community impact. Days before the awards celebration, he returned to the states from his post as deputy cultural affairs officer for the U.S. Consulate in Karachi, Pakistan. “I have to say it feels good to be home,” he said. “I am truly honored and humbled to be the first recipient of the Maxwell Compass Award.”
A Texas native, Rowe worked in city government in Fort Worth and as a foreign policy fellow in Congress before coming to Maxwell. A college program in Japan stoked his interest in world cultures and languages, and he’s now fluent in Spanish, Mandarin, Hindi and Urdu.
Rowe thanked his “village” of Maxwell faculty, staff and fellow alumni. “I knew after attending Maxwell I would leave wiser, more confident, and know how to identify problems, ask the right questions and more importantly, be a problem solver.”
The fourth Award of Excellence was given posthumously, in honor of Willie, who died at age 94 this past January. His Maxwell legacy endures—first as a graduate student, earning a Ph.D. in sociology in 1957, and then as a faculty member, becoming Syracuse University’s first Black tenured professor and serving as chair of the Sociology Department. In 1974, he left Syracuse to join the faculty of Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, where he remained until his retirement in 1999.
Willie applied his scholarship to issues of equity and social justice. A committed activist, he twice brought his college friend Martin Luther King Jr. to speak on campus in the 1960s. His accomplishments included successfully advocating for equal treatment of Black college football players, the ordination of women priests in the Episcopal church, and the desegregation of public school systems throughout the country through an innovative approach he called “controlled choice.”
Willie’s son, James, and his wife, Susan Willie—both 1998 graduates of Maxwell’s master of public administration program—accepted the award. They and fellow attendees were surprised with the announcement that it would be renamed the Dr. Charles V. Willie Advocate Award.
“He always loved the Maxwell School, it was his home base, and he would definitely be really appreciative of this honor and to be part of this amazing group,” said James. “As a Maxwell alumnus 41 years after my father got his degree, I know my father was, and I am proud of the work Maxwell has done and continues to do around diversity and inclusion.”
Watch the video of the full event via YouTube.
View photos of the event via Flickr.
By Jessica Youngman and includes reporting by Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers
Published in the Summer 2022 issue of the Maxwell Perspective
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