Seniors and their families convened May 29 to view an event unique in the Woodrow Wilson School’s history — “our first ever, and hopefully last, virtual Class Day awards ceremony,” said Paul Lipton, associate dean for undergraduate education.
Conducted via Zoom — now a familiar platform to Princeton students from attending virtual classes this spring — the event honored 106 graduating seniors as well as two students who earned their bachelor’s degrees in January 2020. The live webinar was attended by 260 people, with many more viewing the recording.
Acting Dean Mark Watson opened the ceremony by reflecting on a period in Princeton’s history when, “seemingly out of the blue, this threat came down on campus.”
“The president sent out a message to students to leave immediately, take what you can carry, but leave everything else behind,” he shared. “I know this sounds strikingly familiar, but actually I am talking about a description I read of Princeton in November of 1776. The president’s name wasn’t [Christopher] Eisgruber; it was [John] Witherspoon. And the threat wasn’t Covid-19; rather, it was 10,000 British troops marching down from New Brunswick.”
Watson drew parallels to today, calling undergraduates’ departure from campus in mid-March 2020 “equally dramatic” and noting, like the Princetonians of 1776, the Great Class of 2020 never will be forgotten.
David Wilcove, faculty chair of the undergraduate program and professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and public affairs, conveyed unwavering confidence in the Class of 2020, as they will become the leaders in charge of solving the world’s challenges. He encouraged them to channel their current feelings of frustration and anger over the state of the world into commitments to building a more just, compassionate, and sustainable one.
“I do think that you, the Wilson School Class of 2020, are better prepared than any other students on campus to understand the depth and breadth of this pandemic — because, for better or worse, it touches upon almost everything we’ve talked about in all of our courses,” Wilcove said.
The virtual ceremony included the awarding of thesis and additional prizes, presented to seniors by faculty and staff, and recognition of the contributions of the seniors on the Undergraduate Student Committee: Jackson Caputo, Alexander Essig, Couty Fall, Janette Lu, Olivia Ott, Lyric Perot, and Anne Marie Wright.
Concluding the event, Lipton sent the graduates off with a toast. “You have earned your spot as a Princeton graduate. I hope that we’re sending you off with empathy, compassion, and a set of intellectual recipes that have prepared you for the unexpected.”
The following seniors received awards:
The Myron T. Herrick Prize — which is the highest thesis honor for an undergraduate at the Woodrow Wilson School — was awarded to Morgan Steelman for her thesis, “On Bad Terms: The Effect of President Trump's First Term on Preterm Birth and Prenatal Care Utilization Among Latina Immigrants.”
“This is the first piece to test this question and it’s really worthy of publication in the leading health policy journals,” said Heather Howard, Steelman’s advisor and lecturer in public affairs and director, State Health and Value Strategies. “Morgan should be commended for tackling such a complex and pressing topic at that thorny intersection of health policy and immigration. You are a superstar in every way in the classroom, on campus, and on the squash court.”
“Thank you so much for this incredible honor. The title thesis advisor really doesn’t do justice to your role as my academic, professional, and personal mentor over the past two years. Thank you so much for supporting me in all of my pursuits, especially this one,” said Steelman.
This prize is awarded to the writer of the best senior thesis overall in the Woodrow Wilson School.
The Woodrow Wilson Senior Thesis Prize was co-awarded to Grace Baylis and Nathan Levit.
Stanley Katz, lecturer with rank of professor of public and international affairs and director of the Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies, advised Baylis on her thesis, “Combatting Human Trafficking Does Not Have to be at the Expense of Sex Workers.”
Presenting the award to Baylis, Katz said, “I so admire your care in identifying the nature and contours of the problem. You have suggested realistic new directions for national sex trafficking policy in more than two countries. This thesis is the product of courage, hard work, and a really fine intelligence.”
“I truly want to thank you, professor, for helping me achieve this, and always just being so supportive and caring. I could not have asked for a better thesis advisor, and I’m so grateful that we got to work together this year,” Baylis said.
Julian Zelizer, Malcolm Stevenson Forbes, Class of 1941 Professor of History and Public Affairs, advised Levit on his thesis, “The Politics of Poverty: A Case Study Analysis of Interest Groups in Conservative State Legislatures.”
Presenting the award to Levit, Zelizer said, “This is the kind of thesis policymakers should read. It’s a work that’s notable for the breadth of the analysis, the detail about how state politics works, and the observation about the messy world of interest group politics. Nathan is a model of what the Class of 2020 is all about.”
“It was a deeply rewarding experience working with you and working on these issues, issues I think are all the more critical and relevant today,” Levit said. “Your work as a public intellectual — with an emphasis on the public as your theater — really inspired me to enter your classroom during freshman spring [semester] and continues to inspire me today.”
This prize is awarded to a senior/s who writes a thesis of unusual merit.
The Lieutenant John A. Larkin Memorial Prize was awarded to Lyric Perot, whose thesis title was “Sweet and Sour Investment: A Sentiment Analysis of Chinese Investment in Europe.”
Sophie Meunier, senior research scholar and lecturer in public and international affairs, served as Perot’s thesis advisor and presented the award, calling her work “highly original analysis” conducted in Dutch, French, and German. “[Lyric] has been a perfect thesis advisee, quick to grasp concepts, receptive to suggestions, and eager to finish the thesis by the original deadline.”
“Thank you so much for your kind words, professor. I’m very grateful for all the guidance I’ve received over the last four years from professors, family, and friends,” Perot said.
This award is given to a senior or seniors who has or have written the best thesis in the field of political economy or on a broadly interdisciplinary subject in which economics plays the most important part.
The Donald E. Stokes Dean’s Prize was co-awarded to Alexander Essig and Olivia Ott by Paul Lipton, associate dean for undergraduate education.
“I’m incredibly grateful and humbled to receive this award and would like to thank the Woodrow Wilson School and its affiliated staff and faculty for the invaluable learning and personal growth opportunities that they have provided over the past few years,” Ott said.
“I feel really honored to be receiving this prize alongside Olivia. This School has afforded me many unique experiences, and I will always treasure my time as a student here,” said Essig.
This award recognizes a senior or seniors who has/have displayed extraordinary leadership and made the most significant contributions to the Undergraduate Program and to the Woodrow Wilson School.
The Gale F. Johnston Prize in Public Affairs was presented to Grace Baylis by Associate Dean Lipton.
“I have truly enjoyed my experience in the Woodrow Wilson School; it has challenged me in all of the best ways and given me a wonderful foundation that I know will serve me very well,” said Baylis.
This prize is awarded to a senior who has shown both great improvement and achieved excellence in work at the Woodrow Wilson School.
The Class of 1924 Award went to Jason Wee for his contributions to the spring 2020 task force “Democracy & Governance in Developing Countries,” taught by Carol Martin, lecturer of public and international affairs. Associate Dean Lipton presented the award.
Accepting the award live at 2:30 a.m. in his local time zone, Wee said, “I’m really grateful to Woody Woo for the incredible opportunity to engage as a senior commissioner in a task force, which is such a unique opportunity in the undergraduate program. I can’t thank Professor Carol Martin enough for the amazing support and mentorship.”
This prize is awarded to senior(s) whose contribution to a policy seminar has been judged most outstanding.