Each year, Wesleyan’s Alumni Association recognizes an extraordinary group of alumni and members of the Wesleyan community with Alumni Association Awards. These awards recognize individuals who have made remarkable contributions or achievements in their professions, their communities, or the creative arts. Traditionally presented at the Wesleyan Assembly and Annual Meeting during Reunion & Commencement Weekend, the awards this year were presented virtually by President Michael Roth ’78 as part of Virtual Reunion 2021.
The recipients and descriptions are below:
Laurence M. Mark ’71
This producer extraordinaire has garnered not just the industry’s most prestigious nominations and awards, but the deep affection of his audiences. Name any handful of his iconic films—Dreamgirls, As Good as It Gets, Jerry Maguire—and watch smiles form as we remember the magic.
Pitch perfect, he draws the deepest understanding of what it is to be human from his team. We love his films not only for what we saw, but for how they made us feel.
Dubbed “Wesleyan’s first film major”—even before Wesleyan offered this—he has blazed a trail to the pinnacle of his field with brilliance, intelligence, and generosity, ever willing to return to his alma mater to share his creative journey.
Christopher S. Weaver MALS ’75, CAS ’76
Weaver first arrived on campus nearly four decades ago, eager to pursue the unlikeliest of academic mashups: physics and computer science with Japanese ethnomusicology.
With his flexible intellect and delight in cultivating interdisciplinary connections, he created the gaming art of the future, bringing the laws of physics onto a virtual gridiron, releasing players into infinite possibilities of true-to-life action. But games are also his potent tools, solving the puzzle of traumatized brains, teaching the next generation to make sense of their world.
A practical intellectual and creative scholar-teacher, he is at home in both humanities and technology. His students will be his legacy as he engages with them to forge their own unlikely connections across disciplines and to develop solutions in a future we never could have fathomed.
Christopher J. Graves ’81, P’17
“Combinatorial creativity,” making connections across disparate fields of study, is the superpower he honed at Wesleyan and brought to bear in the world. Rising to the top of two prestigious careers, he’s embarked on a third most crucial one. Founder of the Ogilvy Center for Behavioral Science, he’s become, through intensive research, a leader in the science of effective health communications.
With a focus on vaccine hesitancy—and with clients that include the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and a major vaccine maker—it is his unique intelligence, curiosity, dedication, and scholarship that allows researchers to provide key information in ways that constituents can hear, and in turn, make life-saving choices.
Ellen R. Green ’81
Artist, filmmaker, and writer, her brilliant trajectory began even before her honors thesis explored the 1920s discourse on African American art. In her prodigious oeuvre since, she has used different media to examine our perceptions and beliefs, offering conflicting yet simultaneous perspectives that challenge our concept of “otherness.”
Her insights have been revealed and interwoven through installations, books, films, and art. Critics have lauded her work as prescient and compelling. Mesmerized by her questions, visions, and insights, we follow her to find that, not only has she shown us this object, this building, this institution, but also she has brought us to a greater understanding of ourselves.
Spencer Phipps Boyer ’91
If we rest easy on any given night, it is because he is one who is keeping a finger on the pulse of the world. Tapped to be the Pentagon’s deputy assistant secretary of defense for Europe, he serves as a point person for NATO nations, strengthening bonds between allies and instilling confidence as he speaks for our country.
Specialist in public international law and the work of multinational organizations, he has honed his wisdom in legal matters around the world: The Hague, Zurich, and Paris all sites for his work. Prestigious media outlets seek his insight and commentary. Georgetown University, the Brookings Institution, the Obama administration, the Brennan Center for Justice — these and more have been beneficiaries of his leadership and teaching, his collegial spirit and rigorous intellect, his research and analysis of European and Eurasian affairs, Russian influence in Western democracies, and U.S. public diplomacy.
Candace C. Nelson ’96
Pastry chef, entrepreneur, cookbook author, TV celebrity, and philanthropist, she began her career as an investment banker, a likely path for an economics major.
Then, following a passion, she pivoted to the unexpected, creating Sprinkles, a single-item bakery at the height of the low-carb craze. Always an innovator, she’s added cupcake ATMs, reality baking show hosting, and Neapolitan pizza to her repertoire. Her through-theme is a commitment to quality products with investment in the community. In every Sprinkles locale, her philanthropy is uniquely geared to the needs of that region.
She has inspired others with her entrepreneurial enthusiasm, fearless innovation, and mouthwatering success, and always placed philanthropy as an essential ingredient in her business plan.
The James L. McConaughy Jr. Memorial Award
Established in 1959 by the class of 1936 in memory of James L. McConaughy Jr. ’36, the James L. McConaughy Jr. Memorial Award recognizes a member of the Wesleyan family (including students, faculty, alumni, parents and members of their respective families) whose writing or other creative achievement conveys unusual insight and understanding of current and past events.
Bruce Eric Kaplan ’86
Author, television writer, and producer of work that captures the zeitgeist; cartoonist whose drawings encapsulate our struggles in a single frame. His characters on screen and page mirror our secret anxieties: we live in unusually fraught times; we have reason to be insecure, life abounds with disappointments. Yet his art renews our courage and cheers us.
Through pulling back the curtain on his own angst and ours, he bridges the isolation we have felt as sole keepers of these fears. Through cheerfully acknowledging our quite valid causes for pessimism, he teases out the charm and humor of our collective foibles.
Kirsten Kimberly Greenidge ’96
Boston’s playwright laureate, she is prolific in her work, reaching the critically acclaimed heights of garnering both Obie and PEN/Laura Pels awards. With a focus on the complex intersection of race, class, and gender, she writes at the place we stand in our history, in our hopes, and in our contemporary quandaries. She breathes her complicated characters into their life upon the stage with an honesty, a vibrancy that both delights us and challenges any pat response.
As a writer-in-residence, she engages in dialogue, provides roles that offer multi–dimensionality for those previously overlooked, and provokes change in our core expectations. As a professor, she fosters within the heart of each student a creative dynamic that reveals an indelible story of resilient characters.
Outstanding Service Award
The Outstanding Service Award is presented to alumni, parents or other members of the Wesleyan community in recognition of outstanding volunteer service to the University, their community or the nation. Awards are traditionally presented at the Wesleyan Assembly and Annual Meeting during Reunion & Commencement Weekend.
Neil J. Clendeninn ’71 MD, PhD
Class leader, physician, professor, pharmaceutical and biotech researcher, architect, lifelong learner: Clendeninn is unique in his wide-ranging talents. Bold, committed undergraduate, his activism on behalf of Black students forged a firm path for those seeking a medical career, a legacy that endures in the annual award founded in his name. Brilliant, inspired researcher, his critical work helped transform AIDS into a treatable illness and continues to tame humanity’s scourges. Creative urban planner, his vision enriches the Hawaiian city of Lihue.
Throughout all, his service to Wesleyan inspires us: class secretary through decades, he fostered our vital connections to each other and alma mater; as trustee, Clendeninn’s wisdom has girded University goals; As reunion planner, he’s strengthened bonds through celebratory homecoming.
David M. Rabban ’71
A university can be only as strong and true as the people who nurture it. Rabban’s energy and service have fostered not only Wesleyan but also universities across our country.
Friend and scholar, the voice of sound reason in any debate, his name is top-of-the-list when classmates seek a cohort to discuss matters of consequence. A former chair of the Alumni Association, ex-officio member of the Board, tireless contributor to committees that inform our governance, his good sense and deep affection for Wesleyan and its diverse constituents have helped to shape wisdom-driven actions across decades.
Distinguished author and professor of law and legal scholar, his scholarship on the history of free speech and the law have helped reshape our understanding of the constitutional underpinnings we hold dear. His extensive commitments to Wesleyan and the American Association of University Professors have demonstrated devotion to academic freedom and civil discourse throughout all institutions of higher education.