Even College President Scott Bierman started to address the crowd in the Chapel, then stopped to say he needed his glasses, which were of the Groucho Marx variety. Somebody in the crowd yelled “ELMOS!” referring to the Basic Elmos, some of whom were in the house (wearing Groucho specs). The Elmos were known for their madcap pranks during the 1970s.
Highlights of the assembly included the awarding of three Distinguished Service Citations and one Young Alumni Award. Among those to receive the DSC, the Alumni Association’s highest honor, were producer and director John Pasquin’67, best known for his work with actor Tim Allen in Home Improvement and the trilogy of The Santa Clause comedy films, though his accomplishments also extend to the stage. The actress JoBeth Williams, Pasquin’s wife, introduced him as “a director that actors love to work with.” Pasquin recounted how he had been trying to understand why he deserved an award for service. “What I do as a director is tell stories, and that, I guess, is a service. Telling stories in whatever form helps keep us alive and connected.”
Margaret “Maggie” Nygren’87, executive director and CEO of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, was introduced for the honor by her husband John Cassels’87, who called her “singularly formidable and approachable.” The organization Nygren leads is a major education advocate for people with disabilities. “I am what I am because of Beloit,” she said. “I learned how to think and how to base coalitions around the common good.” Nygren has influenced the outcomes of the U.S. Supreme Court and federal court decisions through position statements and amicus curiae briefs to the courts.
Susan McClellan’63 introduced Distinguished Service Citation recipient Jamey Brumfield’92. McClellan was Brumfield’s elementary schoolteacher and pointed her toward Beloit. Brumfield’s service to the college is extensive and spirited. She’s officially served on the alumni board, but informally she’s the college’s greatest cheerleader, in person and on social media. She and her husband, David Birdwell’94, own and operate Your Plan B, a Chicago-based web design company. After taking a selfie with the audience, Brumfield led an impromptu “Go Beloit” cheer. “I will always be cheering for Beloit every single day,” she said.
Anne Mahle’92 is senior vice president for public partnerships for Teach for America, where she began her career as a bilingual teacher in the Rio Grande Valley—after graduating from Beloit and before going to law school. Professor of English Diane Lichtenstein, who presented Mahle with the award, recalled that she had saved one of Mahle’s papers for years. “When I reread it, I thought: ‘What a talented and inspired person.’” Mahle called her experiences at Teach for America “a through line,” in her life, but she also mentioned eight Beloit faculty and staff by name for their advice and mentorship.
In one of the most moving presentations in recent memory, Manger Professor of International Studies Beth Dougherty introduced the Young Alumni Award, which went to Zainab Alkhawaja’07 in absentia. A citizen of the Persian Gulf nation of Bahrain, Alkhawaja was a central figure in the 2011 peaceful protests during the Arab Spring. On the streets and through her Twitter handle “Angry Arabiya,” she gave voice to the Bahraini majority against government corruption and the deportation, torture, and unfair imprisonment of citizens. Her activism, however, has come at a great personal cost. She has been beaten for her views, imprisoned 11 times, separated from her family, and is now in exile in Denmark. Dougherty read a powerful letter from Alkhawaja that, at its conclusion, brought the alumni audience to its feet.
Nominate a Beloiter
The Alumni Office encourages nominations for Distinguished Service Citations and Young Alumni Awards. Send an email with the name, class year, and notable achievements of the individual(s) you wish to nominate, or submit through the college website. Nominations are accepted for graduates of any year, but individuals are considered for awards on their 10th, 25th, or 50th reunions. The official award criteria is for “overall achievements, personal growth in a career, and outstanding civic, cultural, and professional / business service that reflect credit on Beloit College.”