Eight students received the 2016 Spirit of Princeton Award awarded by the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students.
The awardees are Cameron Bell ’16, Yonathan Benyamini ’16, Naimah Hakim ’16, Lawrence Liu ’16, Jack Mazzulo ’16, Ian McGeary ’16, Beverly Nguyen ’16 and Olivia Robbins ’16.
The award recognizes a select group of undergraduate students who have made positive contributions to various facets of the University, including in the arts, community service, student organizations, residential living, religious life and athletic endeavors.
All undergraduate students were eligible for the Spirit of Princeton award and could have been nominated by faculty members, alumni, staff and fellow students in the Princeton community. The nominations were reviewed and final winners selected by a committee comprised of administrators and undergraduate students.
Kathleen Deignan, Dean of Undergraduate Students, explained that the purpose of the award was to identify students who have had “extraordinary commitment and selfless dedication” and who have “made substantial contributions to Princeton's residential, social and extracurricular life.”
Deputy Dean of Undergraduate Students Thomas Dunne, who coordinated the selection process, noted that there were over a hundred nominations for the award this year.
“The selection committee had a difficult time in making these selections, as we had quite a few very compelling nominations. We are immensely grateful for all the work student organization leaders make to daily life at Princeton,” he said.
Deignan noted that the the winners will be recognized at a dinner in May with University President Christopher Eisgruber '83, Vice President for Campus Life W. Rochelle Calhoun and the heads of all the Campus Life offices.
Bell, a history major from Newport News, Va., served on the Black History Month Planning Committee and the Special Task Force on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Additionally, she has been an intern through the Princeton Internships for Civic Service program for two years and taught at the Epiphany School in Boston and the North Star Academy in Newark.
Bell said that she knew that she had been nominated as her friend had informed her beforehand. However, she said she did not know when she would hear back from ODUS or what the award really entailed.
Benyamini is a Operations Research and Financial Engineering major from Roslyn, N.Y. He is an residential college advisor, a member of the Bhangra dance group, and the part of the OIP Advisory Board.
Benyamini said that winning the award was bittersweet, since there were other students who contributed to this campus and often fell under the radar.
Hakim is an anthropology major from Cortlandt Manor, N.Y. She is the University Council Chair for USG, a co-chair for the USG Mental Health Initiative Board, a vocalist for Glee Club, a dancer in the Naacho Dance Company, and a member of the Black Justice League.
Hakim added that while this award is great, in that it acknowledges community building apart from academic achievement, it's important to keep in mind the people who put in long hours who are not recognized in this way, but who are still entirely deserving.
She said that she believes her personal recognition is an honor in itself, but also a reflection and testament to the wonderful teams she has been a part of at Princeton.
“I'm taken aback just by the fact that somebody even took their time to write a nomination letter. Princeton's been such an incredible place for me, so it's really humbling to be a part of the recognition,” she said.
Liu, a Woodrow Wilson School concentrator from Plano, Texas, is a volunteer in the Petey Greene program, a teaching initiative for currently incarcerated individuals. Liu interned at the US embassy in Beijing and researched challenges in China's current legal system.
“It was definitely a big surprise and very humbling that I got the email earlier this week,” Liu said. “I thought that all the people who had gotten [the award] before were all incredible Princetonians, and that there was no chance that I would be honored in that way.”
“I think a lot of students are really involved with a lot of different things on campus and often times we do it just because it’s what we love to do. But I think it’s a really great idea to recognize the different things that people do, and I’m really glad that it exists,” added Liu.
Mazzulo is molecular biology major from Matthews, N.C. He is a senior staff photographer for the Daily Princetonian, and does volunteer work with the community of Trenton for El Centro and the Emergency Room at the University Medical Center at Princeton, as well as being an RCA for Butler College.
Mazzulo commented, "The interactions with people and experiences with groups that I've had while at Princeton have been invaluable to me, and it is heartwarming to know that they have meant something to other people as well. "
McGeary, a Ecology and Evolutionary Biology concentrator from North Brunswick, N.J., is an Executive Director of the Water & Beverage Student Agency. He is also a defensive lineman on the varsity men's football team and was previously the president of Cannon Dial Elm Club, where he was also the student manager for the fifth reunion in 2015.
He noted that the award highlights the students who aren’t just talented academically, but who also “have passions and talents outside of the classroom, whether that be in terms of community service, athletics, religious life, or any of the other activities we have on campus.”
Nguyen is a molecular biology major from Davis, Calif.. Nguyen had spent a summer in Kakamega, Kenya, working with an NGO to provide accessibility to higher standard healthcare for local residents. Nguyen had also been a member of the women's swimming and diving varsity team for four years and captain for the past year.
According to her, the team taught her how to “be a part of something bigger than myself, and it helped me to grow as a person.”
She added that the most meaningful relationships she made while at the University were also a result of being on the swim team.
Robbins is an English major from Wilmette, Ill.. Robbins co-directed the Vagina Monologues and has served for a year as the co-president of the Women's Mentorship Program. She has also served as the co-chair of the Pace Council for Civic Values board.
“[The Monologues allowed me to] bring together different parts of the campus; both faculty, staff and students, and especially people who would never have come to this kind of show,” she said.
Robbins noted that several of her mentors had won this award in the past few years.
Correction: Due to a reporting error, a previous version of this article misstated the number of years Olivia Robbins '16 was involved in the Women's Mentorship Program, as well as the name of the Pace Council for Civic Values board. The 'Prince' regrets the error.