Past Alumni Achievement Award Recipients Reflect on Knox
February 20, 2012
Twenty-one past Alumni Achievement Award recipients returned to the Knox College campus for this year's special 175th anniversary Founders Day Convocation on February 17.
While on campus, the past AAA recipients also mingled with students and toured Old Main with Knox faculty member Lance Factor, George Appleton Lawrence Distinguished Service Professor and Chair of Philosophy. Factor is the author of Chapel in the Sky: Knox College's Old Main and Its Masonic Architect.
Several past honorees shared their thoughts about their Knox College days, what it's like for them to return to campus, and what advice they have for today's Knox students.
DAVID AXELROD '67
While having lunch with students on Friday in Seymour Union, David Axelrod '67 (pictured at right with Knox students) thought back to a historic and sad day in United States history.
"I realized I was sitting in the same spot as I was sitting when somebody ran into the dining room and said that (President) Kennedy had been shot - which was my freshman year. That memory had been gone for a long time."
Axelrod, who received the Alumni Achievement Award in 2006, is a documentary producer, and his work includes the PBS programs Lost at Sea: The Search for Longitude, Galileo's Battle for the Heavens, and American Experience: The History of Rock & Roll. He said he enjoys returning to visit Knox, which played a crucial role in his career path.
"I was an English major at Knox, and I knew by the time that I left that I wanted to go into film and television," said Axelrod, who attended graduate school at New York University Film Institute. That program largely focused on how to use the tools of the trade.
"Now, all these years later, I think almost everything I learned at NYU has become passé, just because of technology. You don't need to know how to load a 16-millimeter camera anymore," he said. "But everything I learned here about storytelling and drama is still completely valid."
CAROL POUCHE VAN DE WALLE '73
Carol Pouche Van De Walle '73 has retired from formal teaching positions since receiving her Alumni Achievement Award for excellence in elementary education in science in 1992, but she remains active volunteering for the Red Cross.
During her career as an elementary school teacher, she received a Christa McAuliffe Fellowship, International Science Teacher of the Year award from the Council for Elementary Science, and the presidential award for Excellence in Science Teaching.
Van De Walle was a part of Knox College's first group of non-traditional students. "I didn't have a traditional Knox experience," she said.
One of her most memorable moments at Knox was when anthropologist Margaret Mead visited and spoke with students in Harbach Theatre.
"It was very intimate," Van De Walle said. "I've never forgotten how these famous people would come to sit and chit-chat here at Knox."
As an educator, her advice for current Knox students is about furthering one's education. "Knox provides a wonderful foundation to build on," she said. "But you can't stop learning as soon as you leave Knox, because your education just started and will always continue."
SEMENYA MCCORD '71
Semenya McCord '71, a Galesburg, Illinois, native, remembers being part of the Knox College Choir. "We went to Denver, New York city -- those were some of my first trips out of Galesburg," she said.
A jazz vocalist, music educator, and composer, she received the Alumni Achievement Award in 2006.
After graduating from Knox, McCord lived for 30 years in Boston, Massachusetts, performing and teaching Jazz. She was named Outstanding Jazz Vocalist by Boston Music Awards and inducted to Boston's "Steppin' Out" Jazz Hall of Fame.
McCord returned to Galesburg in 2003 and received her master's degree from Northern Illinois University in 2006. She now teaches music in Galesburg District 205 schools, as well as classes in jazz voice and the history of rock-n-roll at Knox.
Her advice to current students? "Find ways to adapt your course work to feed your passion. Faculty and Administration have always been very open to that."
CHRISTINE HERBES-SOMMERS '70
Since receiving her award for achievement in multi-media production and writing in 1984, Christine Herbes-Sommers '70 says she has been doing "the exact same thing, just better."
She said her visit to Knox for the 2012 Alumni Achievement Awards ceremony felt more like a homecoming.
"I just feel so bloody at home here, which is how I've always felt here," she said. "It is a place you just trust."
Her advice to current Knox students comes from thoughts shared during her latest visit to campus.
"There were a lot of stories about falling into what you love," Herbes-Sommers said. "Don't be afraid to fall into what you love, and don't be worried if it feels like an accident."
Her love for Knox has stayed strong throughout the years, she said. "It is amazing how Knox is transforming the world, quietly and profoundly."
HAL OPPERMAN ‘60
As a Knox College senior, Hal Opperman '60 took the only art history class that was offered at the time. It was enough to inspire him to commit to further study in the field.
Now a professor emeritus of art history at the University of Washington, Opperman lived in Paris, France, for many years and wrote what has become the definitive work on French artist Jean-Baptiste Oudry. He also has worked with Bill Gates to create a digital archive of images, including prestigious works of art.
He received the Alumni Achievement Award in 1988.
His advice for current Knox students? Opperman believes that foundational education is "90 percent of everything you learn in your life. Knox provides that foundation."
THOMAS MINER ‘50
The last time that Thomas Miner '50 visited the Knox College campus was in 2000 for his 50th reunion.
"I'm very favorably impressed" with the campus and its students, he said during his 2012 visit.
Miner, a 1974 Alumni Achievement Award recipient, is chairman and chief executive officer of Thomas H. Miner and Associates, Inc., an international business consulting firm. He also is founder and chairman emeritus of The Mid-America Committee for International Business and Government Cooperation, Inc. During his career, he has worked in more than 100 countries.
"Doing well with a bachelor's degree from Knox College, you can do anything in the world you want to do," he said. "There's nothing finer than a B.A. in whatever from Knox College. You're equipped to take on the world."
He advised today's Knox students to take courses in geography, history, and other global subjects.
"It's a world economy," he said. "We're a world family, and the borders don't make much difference anymore."