5/11/2013

Alexis Rae Teevens: 2013 Recipient of the Williamson Medal

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The following citation was presented at Franklin & Marshall College's 2013 Commencement Ceremony on May 11, 2013:

When she visited Franklin & Marshall College as a high school junior, Alexis Teevens was certain that competitive running would be the central focus of her college experience. As she accepts the Williamson Medal today, Alexis still values athletic competition, but she has also become a scholar, a social activist and a leader. She graduates ranked 1st in the Class of 2013, having earned honors in American Studies. She also completed a minor in Applied Mathematics. In addition, Alexis has fully embraced the life of our residential liberal arts college by doing independent research, participating in the College House Junto Society, running cross country and track & field, becoming a leader in the Kappa Delta sorority, playing flute in the Symphonic Wind Ensemble, and tutoring at the Writing Center.

In addition, Alexis has demonstrated a commitment to serving others who were born into less privileged backgrounds. Her particular passion is expanding access to quality education; she has volunteered at Reynolds Middle School, interned in the Ware Institute's Manheim Summer Mentoring Program, served as Operations Coordinator at the Teach For America Tulsa Institute, and founded and led the campus chapter of Students for Education Reform.

Sophomore year proved to be pivotal for Alexis. During her first year, Alexis had been a high-achieving but reticent student. She pursued her passion for running but refrained from expanding her horizons of interest. As a sophomore, however, Alexis suffered stress fractures in both legs and reluctantly accepted the advice of Coach John Stoudt to take time away from running and allow her body to heal. Ironically, this injury provided Alexis the time and freedom to redefine herself. She became a Writing Tutor and joined Kappa Delta sorority. She also began reading scholarship about the American educational system, including Jonathan Kozol's "The Shame of the Nation," which was particularly influential. During the spring of her sophomore year, she applied for the Manheim Mentoring Program. By junior year she had become fascinated with Teach for America, connected with a national organization called Students for Education Reform (SER) and started a chapter at F&M. During the fall semester of her senior year, SER, with Alexis as the driving force, staged a week-long campus event intended to increase student and faculty awareness about educational inequity.

Alexis' commitment to educational reform culminated in her earning a prestigious Rising Leaders Fellowship from Teach For America. Professor Carla Willard describes Alexis as "one of the two most exceptional students I have encountered in more than 20 years in the profession," while Professor Alison Kibler says that Alexis is "the best that I've taught in ten years." Alexis' transcript exemplifies both the breadth and depth that is the hallmark of the liberal arts. She is animated by both a passion to make a difference in the lives of others and an intellectual drive to understand the causes of educational inequity in this country. In the words of Professor Willard, Alexis is guided by the conviction that "knowledge can change the way we think and act in the world, and that informed, collective action can help reshape policy on issues of social justice, particularly in education."

Alexis' intellectual interests have included feminism and educational policy as well as inequality. As a junior she conducted research on a key moment in second-wave feminism in Lancaster -- when a group of women challenged the FCC license of the WGAL television station. She learned the art of conducting oral histories and discovered a treasure trove of lost documents. As a senior she wrote an honors thesis that Professor Willard describes as "an analysis of scholarship and fieldwork into the way in which the media dissemination of educational policy… evolves with a popular-cultural narrative of ‘simple' solutions for students and teachers embattled by a long history of social and economic exclusion." Professor Willard also praises Alexis for her "striking ability to synthesize disparate primary sources with methodological sophistication. . . [that] stems in large part from the fact that Alexis thinks about educational equity on a daily basis." Alexis loves her major in American Studies because it has enabled her to view the world from the standpoint of others and to understand the role of class, race and gender in shaping educational opportunity.

Alexis is as humble a person as she is accomplished as a scholar and social activist. According to Alexis, she arrived at F&M as a somewhat "shy young girl" lacking the confidence to participate in classroom discussions. Her faculty have reflected upon her maturation over the past four years. Professor Kibler observes: "Her humility is now matched by her intense work ethic and ambition." Even as her intellectual confidence and ambition have flourished and matured, Alexis has remained in the words of Dan Frick, Director of the Writing Center, a "thoughtful, open, and cheerful young woman who establishes equally positive relations with peers and professors." Frick adds that as a writing tutor, Alexis was notable for "her easy and appealing way with fellow students." Stoudt describes her as "intelligent, articulate and mature" and emphasizes "she will always try her very best to do the right thing in every situation."

Building on her academic work and passionate desire to mitigate the impact of educational inequity, Alexis will begin life after college as an associate teacher with the Brooke Charter School in east Boston, Massachusetts.

Alexis, in recognition of your drive to succeed, intellectual restlessness, and compassionate social activism, Franklin & Marshall College is pleased to award you the Williamson Medal. You are a model of what the faculty believes makes the College special and a testimony to the power of a liberal arts education.

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