On Saturday, Feb. 19, Princeton held its first in-person Alumni Day since 2020, bringing Tigers from all across the world back to Princeton’s campus for celebrations and awards in Richardson Auditorium.
Typically an annual event, Alumni Day celebrates the achievements of both Princeton’s students and alumni. This year, Louise Sams ’79, Chair of the Board of Trustees, presented the University’s most prestigious awards for alumni — the Woodrow Wilson Award and the James Madison Medal — to Nobel Laureate Maria Ressa ’86 and Julia Wolfe GS ’12, respectively. University President Christopher L. Eisgruber ’83 also presented the Moses Taylor Pyne Honor Prize and the Porter Ogden Jacobus Fellowship to undergraduate and graduate students.
Despite previous worries that she would not be able to attend due to legal concerns in the Philippines, Ressa was cleared by the Philippines Court of Appeals on Thursday, Feb. 17 and was able to attend. Her speech, titled “The Honor Code, The State of Our World Today, and What We Can Do About It,” discussed issues confronting journalism, democracy, and truth-seeking in the digital age.
The speech began with an anecdote about when she took over as head of the news division of ABS-CBN, the largest media organization in the Philippines.
“I explained the Princeton Honor Code to about a thousand journalists in ABS-CBN,” she began. “It’s how we pledge on our honor not to cheat, and we take responsibility that if we saw someone cheating, [we] would report it. That became the foundation for our thousand journalists in our fight against corruption.”
In addressing the core problems facing governments today, she said that “the death of democracy began when journalists lost our gate-keeping powers to the technology platforms that not only abdicated responsibility for protecting us, but … also destroyed democracy by destroying the facts, for immense profit.”
Ressa further called upon Princeton alumni to protect democracy moving forward.
“You cannot have integrity of elections if you do not have integrity of facts. That’s the truth. So this is it. Bring your super powers. Princeton has a lot of super powers,” she concluded.
In an interview with The Daily Princetonian after the event, Ressa explained that although the “distribution [of news] has been destroyed,” this is “a time of opportunity” for new journalists.
Alongside Ressa, Julia Wolfe GS ’12 accepted the James Madison Medal, which is given to a graduate alum who has “had a distinguished career, advanced the cause of graduate education or achieved a record of outstanding public service.”
To Wolfe, a classical composer and Professor of Music Composition at New York University, the fact that the award was bestowed upon an artist “in the presence of scientists, economists, and historians” was particularly meaningful.
In her acceptance speech, she said that she was grateful that the award this year “recognizes the music of our times.” As only the second composer to receive this award, she wanted to pay homage to her novel approach in the composition of classical music.
Wolfe described Steel Hammer as a “meditation on over 200 versions of the John Henry ballad” and a testament to the constant battle of “human versus machine” in the onslaught of the Industrial Revolution.
“Fire in my Mouth” was written in reference to the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire and the hundreds of women who died in the fire. This incident galvanized many laborers to action in the fight for safety in the workplace.
“‘Fire in my Mouth’ focuses on the story of women who persevered and endured challenging conditions – women who led the fight for reform in the workplace,” Wolfe said.
“[James] Madison spoke eloquently about the evils of slavery, yet kept many slaves and even at his death failed to free them, making you think about the relationship between ideas and actions,” Wolfe said about the intersection of the medal’s namesake and her own work.
In addition to the two alumni award winners, five Princeton graduate and undergraduate students won the University’s top honors.
Three graduate students, Spencer Weinreich, Erin Kado-Fong, and Zachary Teed, were awarded the Porter Ogden Jacobus Fellowship for their scholarly excellence during their graduate studies.
Weinreich, a final year PhD candidate in the Program for History of Science, is researching how to reform the current carceral system in the United States.
“We live in a country that imprisons more of its people for longer times than, for what we know, any period in history,” Weinreich said in a video accompanying the award’s presentation. “In order to understand how to reform the prison structure, we must understand how we got here and why we think these systems work.”
Kado-Fong, a final year PhD candidate in the Department of Astrophysical Sciences, is interested in how galaxies are formed and evolved, particularly fixating on dwarf galaxies — the smallest and most abundant galaxies in the universe.
“Erin has developed new tools and is leveraging amazing data sets in order to really understand the galaxy population,” said Jenny Greene, Professor of Astrophysical Science.
Teed, a final year PhD candidate in the Department of Computer Science, is developing the technology to create 3-D sensors out of cameras along with a digital copy of any rendered photograph in order to establish 3-D reconstruction.
“In essence, [Teed] is enabling computers to see as humans do and he has made a much more effective recipe for this technology, so much better than anything that has existed before,” said Jia Deng, Assistant Professor of Computer Science.
Christian Potter ’22 and Claire Wayner ’22 were also recognized as co-recipients of the 2022 Moses Taylor Pyne Honor Prize, the highest distinction conferred to an undergraduate student at Princeton University.
In a brief interview with the ‘Prince,’ Eisgruber described the day as “inspiring and extraordinary.”
Regarding the use of digital technologies such as Zoom for future University events, Eisgruber said “the University is primarily an in-person institution, and we expect to lean on in-person [programming] for future events, to include Reunions.”
Aidan Iacobucci is a Staff News Writer for the ‘Prince.’ He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @aidaniaco on Instagram.
Brenden Garza is a News Contributor for the ‘Prince’. He can be reached at email@example.com or @brenden.garza on Instagram.