Monday, Feb. 5, the College of William and Mary hosted a ceremony recognizing students and faculty with achievements in leadership and teaching.
Jaden A. Spady ’24 received the James Monroe Prize in Civic Leadership, Robert K. Gourdie ’24 received the Thomas Jefferson Prize in Natural Philosophy, Assistant professor of Government Claire McKinney received the Thomas Jefferson Teaching Award, while Virginia Institute of Marine Science Professor Linda C. Schaffner M.A. ’81, Ph.D. ’87 received the Thomas Jefferson Award.
“This is one of my favorite events of the year. And, this is not only because we get to celebrate the accomplishments of our colleagues. It’s also because we recognize what goes into these accomplishments, and on occasions, sometimes the sacrifices,” Provost Peggy Agouris said in her opening statement. “This is a very well-earned honor that we’re going to be presenting to some people today. And I’m very, very happy to be part of this process.”
According to the program of the event, the Plumeri Awards celebrate faculty members who work collaboratively with students to take risks, think creatively and pursue their passions. Since 2019, the awards also recognize an outstanding coach or athletics staff member. This year, Director of Gymnastics Mike Powell received a Plumeri award.
Senior Vice President for Student Affairs and Public Safety Virginia Ambler ’88, Ph.D. ’06 presented the James Monroe Prize in Civic Leadership to Spady, who served as president of the African American Male Coalition, vice president of the National Pan-Hellenic Council and a William and Mary Scholars Undergraduate Research Experience fellow.
“One of my favorite quotes from two questions were actually, something I kind of lived by [which] is that I may not be the one to change the world, but I hope one day to spark an inspired one that does,” Spady said. “And as long as I’m on this earth, I hope I can inspire and make positive change in my community, and especially to essentially make the world a better place. So thank you so much.”
The Thomas Jefferson Prize in Natural Philosophy went to Gourdie. A 1693 Scholar, Gourdie’s research led to the discovery of a new biochemical reaction and several novel amino acids. Gourdie’s work was also published in a prestigious chemical biology journal.
“I’d also like to thank all my professors and peers because, without the help of others, I really couldn’t have accomplished much of anything,” Gourdie said. “All these people have taught me so much. But, perhaps most importantly, they taught me about the relationship between curiosity and collaboration. And so, so many of the people I’ve met here at William and Mary have such unique, carefully cultivated interests and goals. And that’s because the original thought, like its original ideas, flourish when people are given the space to explore the things.”
The Thomas Jefferson Teaching Award is given each year to a faculty member who has demonstrated the inspiration and stimulation of learning to the betterment of the individual and society as exemplified by Thomas Jefferson, according to the College. McKinney received the award this year.
“I’ve been blessed to be surrounded by phenomenal teachers my whole life,” McKinney said, while wiping away tears. “My mother was the first to model teaching as a dedication to excellence, striving —- and to approach learning as students do. She also told me that she rejected the idea that some people just couldn’t learn math, insisting that they just haven’t found the right way to learn and that it’s the duty of teachers to get everyone who wants to learn a chance to do it and do it well. That lesson motivates me every day, especially in the hardest moments of teaching, and really helps me strive to get the best of my students.”
The Thomas Jefferson Award is given each year to a member of the College community for significant service through their personal activities, influence and leadership. Schaffner received the award this year.
“It’s really the students at the heart of all this that are so inspirational because you think, you know, ‘What are their contributions going to be in the future?’ And how can I make even a little bit of a difference in that trajectory to helping them get to where they want to be, in their successful career and life? So they’ve always, always inspired me to be more supportive, to work, to be more supportive and impactful as a teacher, even if it meant spending 60 hours to get ready for a lecture about something I didn’t really know very much about. But now you know I got that,” Schaffner said, recognizing students in her speech. Several of her colleagues and students from VIMS were in attendance and stood up before Schaffner’s speech, wearing VIMS hats.