2011 Commencement Franklin & Marshall College
In the spirit of the Williamson Medal, Chelsea Schein has been a courageous campus leader who has taken public stances on difficult issues. She has advocated for the celebration of different sexual orientations, the end of sexual violence, more education about the transmission of HIV-AIDS in public schools and increased interfaith dialogue. When asked about her leadership choices, Chelsea responds simply that they were not planned but rather her way of responding to needs that she perceived. She also credits her twin sister and Rouse Scholar, Johanna Schein, with providing the unconditional love and support that Chelsea needed to get involved, especially knowing that some of these issues carried a social risk.
An incident that occurred during her sophomore year illustrates how Chelsea makes her leadership choices. Posters announcing an LGBTA (Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Transgendered and Their Allies) event were vandalized. Convinced that this behavior was isolated and not indicative of the F&M community, she advocated that LGBTA respond by creating an event: a public statement that the college celebrates and embraces diversity. After being chosen president of LGBTA, she led a planning process that resulted in the inaugural Gender Bender Ball, an event that invites students to push the boundaries of sexual identity. The Ball also conveys a serious message about an issue of national significance. as Chelsea wrote in an email to faculty members, “In a time when gay suicides have received national attention, I want to make sure that you all know of LGBTA, what we do and where we are, so you can help students in need.” When more than 300 students and faculty attended the event, Chelsea’s faith in the character of the F&M community was affirmed.
Chelsea’s view of leadership as service to others also led her to apply for and be accepted as a member of the Women’s Center executive board. In 2008, as a member of that board, she chaired the Take Back the Night planning committee. This activity is dedicated to persons who have survived a sexual assault. Its intent is to communicate that the community has zero tolerance for acts of sexual assault. Chelsea’s commitment to this issue also led her to serve as vice president of SAVE (an alliance of students committed to sexual assault violence education), as a student representative to the Know How Coalition and as a student presenter for the new student orientation program focused on sexual assault prevention.
Chelsea has also helped to shape our College House system during its formative years. Professor Joel Eigen, don of the Ware College House where Chelsea has lived all four years, offers the following reflection on her impact on the culture of the House: “While conversations at the House tuesday morning bagel breakfasts are often lively, these discussions were decidedly more substantive when Chelsea was in the den. She has a completely natural and unaffected interest in ideas—big ideas. She brought to the conversation theories in psychology, research in neuroscience, a comment or two from Aristotle. Lest this sound a little too precious, I should mention that her comments were always leavened with a lack of self regard and a refreshingly easy way of laughing at herself. As house advisers for the last three years, Chelsea and her equally wonderful sister, Johanna, led by example, working to bring others into the conversation and life of the house. Honestly, when i think of the reasons why the House system was attractive to me, it was the promise of working with such talented and inspiring students.”
Chelsea Schein is not only a leader to be admired; she is also a dedicated scholar whose undergraduate studies have been animated by her passion to understand what it means to be a moral person. This inquiry has led Chelsea to enroll in courses such as “The Concept of a Person,” “Living Well,” “Love and Friendship” and “Moral Psychology.” It also directly influenced her decision to major in Scientific and Philosophic Studies of the Mind with a minor in psychology.
Chelsea’s academic record certainly earns the respect of the faculty as well. She graduates summa cum laude with a GPA of 3.99 and has been elected to Phi Beta Kappa. Her many academic recognitions also include the Edward S. Reed Prize and the Stanley Craig Memorial Prize. Even more importantly, faculty love having Chelsea enroll in their courses because as David Merli explains: “She’s intellectually generous. She listens to and thinks about what other people are saying. She’s the kind of person who will see what’s valuable in what other people are thinking and then help them make it better instead of shooting it down. She’s focused on the issues, not on self-promotion.” This predisposition to teach others served Chelsea well when she worked as a preceptor for a first-year seminar titled “Choices, Decisions and Rationality.”
As both a sophomore and a junior, Chelsea was also invited to assist with faculty research as a summer Hackman scholar. Both these experiences influenced her inquiry into the nature of moral person. In one case she conducted research on Akrasia, or “weakness of will,” and its implications for mental health. This work resulted in a co-authored paper that has been submitted for publication (her co-authors include our 2005 Williamson Medalist Eranda Jayawickerme and professor Michael Penn). In the second case, she assisted Professor Megan Knowles’ research on “spontaneous belonging enhancement.”
In Chelsea’s view, her entire program of undergraduate study has been animated by what she has come to understand as the fundamental purpose of a liberal arts education: the critical examination of how we live our daily lives. Her work culminated in a senior honors thesis titled “Don’t Feed the Alligators: Mind, Perception and Welfare.” It explores why we judge welfare recipients differently than persons we label as poor.
There is something else special about Chelsea Schein. She is one of four Schein women to graduate from Franklin & Marshall college. I’ve already mentioned her twin sister, Johanna, but the tradition of Schein women at F&M was started by mom, Jan Schein, Class of 1978, and continued by older sister Hallie, a 2007 graduate. The college is indeed proud and fortunate to count these four extraordinary women among its graduates.
Next fall, Chelsea will begin an interdisciplinary Ph.D. program in social, decision and organizational sciences at the University of Maryland, and she anticipates joining the professoriate someday.
Chelsea, we admire the courage and moral compass that have informed your leadership and the passion for knowledge that has guided your academic life. You exemplify the qualities of intellect, creativity and character that the college seeks to foster in its students. On behalf of the faculty and administration, I invite you to accept this Williamson Medal in recognition of your remarkable record of scholarship, character and leadership.
Daniel R. Porterfield, Ph.D.
President of the College
Given this Fourteenth Day of May
Two Thousand Eleven