College honors student leaders at annual event

MIDDLEBURY — The more than 100 students who gathered at the Student Leadership Awards Ceremony at Middlebury College on May 2 came from a wide array of campus organizations and represented the most active participants among the 1,500 students from the college who donate more than 500,000 hours of their time each year to local, national and international causes.
They were honored for their work with migrant farmworkers in Addison County, with Somali and Burmese refugees in Burlington, with homeless and low-income people in the area; for organizing Relay for Life events locally to help those touched by cancer; and for arranging service trips across the nation and around the world, among many others accomplishments.
Before the awards were presented, college President Ron Liebowitz discussed the true impact of the work Middlebury students have on the people they touch.
“Know that the work you do for your fellow students and also for the community is something that we both admire and respect very much,” he said.
And on a more competitive note, Liebowitz said that Middlebury’s students offer their service to the community, and receive opportunities to do service, that students at other schools do not — including, he said, “some leagues covered in ivy.”
Among the award recipients was Shabana Basij-Rasikh, a senior international studies major from Afghanistan. Basij-Rasikh won both the Barbara J. Buchanan ’62 Memorial Prize and the Dana Morosini Reeve ’84 Memorial Public Service Award. In addition, Basij-Rasikh won the statewide Madeleine M. Kunin Public Service award earlier this year.
“Shabana has worked tirelessly to promote a voice for women,” said Tiffany Sargent, director of the college’s Alliance for Civic Engagement, in presenting the Dana Reeve award. “She has shown bravery, stoicism and an unflappable commitment to peace and social justice.”
Basij-Rasikh is the president and founder of Hela, an organization that builds schools, women’s centers and athletic fields geared at educating and engaging young women in Afghanistan. Basij-Rasikh is also the executive director of the Afghan Youth Initiative, which helps to educate students and support youth-led community projects in her native country.
In her time in Vermont, she also received a $10,000 Davis Projects for Peace grant through the college to dig wells in Kabul, her home city.
Basij-Rasikh’s nominator for the Barbara Buchanan award wrote that young woman was “exceptional in every way.”
The John McCardell Public Service Award went to senior Amanda Perry and juniors Brittany Gendron and Quan Pham for their work on the Service Cluster Board, which provides support and training for students running campus service organizations. Sargent said the board has pushed forward work on homelessness, migrant farmworker outreach, mentoring and other community issues.
The Bonnie McCardell Public Service Award went to Kristin Haas, Melissa Hirsch and Laura Kerr Williams, all seniors, for their work with the DREAM program. The program pairs low-income students with college mentors to provide educational and mentoring activities.
And Ben Silton, Kevin Glatt, Dylan Fitzpatrick and Zach Fenster received a Public Service Award for their work with Butch Varno, a local man with cerebral palsy who has been spending time with college athletes and at college sports games for 50 years. His relationship with sports teams at the college was the subject of an ESPN segment, “Picking up Butch.”
“What started as volunteer efforts quickly evolved into a deep and abiding friendship,” said Sargent. “These students have been incredibly faithful to Butch, year in and year out.”
Patrick Durkin, a 1979 alumnus of the college, was in attendance at the awards ceremony. Durkin set up a fund to support the Public Service Leadership Awards in 1994, and spoke to the crowd about their collective service work in the community and the world.
“You are the unspoken heroes of this campus,” said Durkin. “The people with the biggest impact are those who are doing things for others.”
And Shirley Collado, dean of the college, wished all of the award recipients and nominees good luck with their future service projects.
“We’re looking forward to seeing you on campus, in the community and around the world, putting your liberal arts education into action.”
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at [email protected].

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