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U. to present Romero ’87, Thorne GS ’65 with top alumni awards

Courtesy of ACLU / Wikimedia Commons and Keenan Pepper / Wikimedia Commons

Anthony D. Romero ’87 and Kip Thorne GS ’65 have been selected as the 2020 recipients of the University’s top alumni awards, the Woodrow Wilson Award and the James Madison Medal, respectively. Both will speak on Alumni Day on Feb. 22, 2020. 

The Woodrow Wilson Award is given to an alumnus or alumna of the undergraduate college who epitomizes the University’s motto — as coined by Woodrow Wilson, “Princeton in the Nation’s Service.” 


Romero has served as the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) since Sept. 2001, just before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. “Keep America Safe and Free,” the campaign Romero launched in response to the attacks, targeted the USA PATRIOT Act and achieved numerous victories in court.

At the ACLU, Romero has presided over dramatic expansion. According to a 2008 interview, the ACLU’s staff had more than doubled, and the organization’s budget had more than tripled since Romero’s tenure began. This increase in membership and funding has allowed the ACLU to expand its advocacy efforts to include the rights of immigrants, the LGBTQ community, and women.

“Princeton played a transformational role in my life, and I am truly humbled and honored by the award,“ Romero said. “The young man who came from a working class family and a vocational high school was fundamentally changed by four years at Princeton.”

Romero also commented on the connotations that the award, named after former University president and 28th President of the United States Woodrow Wilson, would carry.

“The controversy surrounding Woodrow Wilson’s legacy, both bad and good, also offers a unique opportunity to talk about social justice and public service in a time when these issues really matter,“ Romero said.

In an interview earlier this year with The Daily Princetonian, Romero said of the ACLU, “What we do makes a real difference, and how we do it has a real impact on the trajectory of liberty and freedom in this country.” 


“I think I’m most pleased and most proud that this organization continues to grow and expand and be resonant with newer generations of Americans on different sets of issues,” Romero said. “I think that the organization’s best days are always ahead of it. And I think if I do my job right, there will be no golden age of the ACLU that we can point to. The golden age of the organization will always be in front of us.”

“My biggest accomplishment is that the golden age of the ACLU is ahead of me and not during my tenure,” he added.

Romero received his A.B. degree from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. His senior thesis was titled, “Colombian Migration and Political Participation in the United States.”

The James Madison Medal is awarded to an alum of the University graduate school who “has had a distinguished career, advanced the cause of graduate education or achieved a record of outstanding public service,” according to the Alumni Association website

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Thorne was a co-recipient of the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work regarding gravitational waves and the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) detector. 

“My three years as a graduate student at Princeton University had an enormous impact on me and my career, and that makes the James Madison Medal especially meaningful to me,“ Thorne wrote in an email to the ‘Prince.’  “It is a great honor that I shall cherish.”

“At Alumni Day I most look forward to the talk by Anthony Romero, whom I have long admired,“ Thorne added. “To share the awards ceremony with him is very special.”

In a 2017 interview with the ‘Prince’, Thorne said that his time at the University shaped his research interests “enormously.”

“The combination of the experimental insights I got — from being in Bob Dicke’s research meetings every week, week after week, for four years, and from working with John Wheeler —  were the major underpinnings, more than anything else, in my career in connection with gravitational waves,” Thorne said. 

He received his Doctorate of Philosophy in Physics. 

This story is breaking and may be updated with additional information as it becomes available.