Elizabeth Swanson and the late Abdul Ali were honored by the Centennial Class of 2019 as Faculty of the Year for teaching us that there is more to life than classes, papers, group meetings, and grades.
Swanson received the honor, according to undergraduate student speaker Swapnika Yarlagadda ’19, for striving “to use education to transform all the hurt in the world.”
“I spoke to a few of her students and the words they used to describe her were ‘kind, passionate, nurturing, and naturally empowering,’ ” said Yarlagadda. “Through her teachings, Professor Swanson not only heightens awareness about pressing human rights and social justice issues but also creates a safe learning environment for her students.”
Professor Swanson, who teaches courses in African-American literature and culture, international literatures, and human rights, shared a personal story when addressing graduates.
“This is a special class for me,” said Swanson. “I have shared so much with so many of you, and, as some of you know, my beautiful daughter, Marcelle Goldberg, is among you.”
“Some of you know that I am battling cancer—in fact, I had to leave my classroom in the middle of this semester because of it,” Swanson explained. “When I was diagnosed, the word ‘node,’ meaning ‘a protuberance or mass,’ suddenly crashed into my life. But, this meaning was immediately countered by others, including: ‘a point of significance; a critical turning point.’ And, this is my metaphor for what can happen in the classroom: nodes, transformations, critical turning points. As today, a critical turning point in each of your unique journeys. The very best that life has to offer—its opportunities to turn the corner from fear to strength, its untold nodes of beauty—this I wish for you.”
The late Abdul Ali earned the Thomas Kennedy Award posthumously.
“He was one of the most positive and dedicated members of our community,” said graduate student speaker Rodrigo Riviello MBA’19. “Professor Abdul always kept his door open for students and colleagues and went out of his way to put a smile on everyone’s face. His passing was a great loss for the entire Babson community.”
During the graduate ceremony, Professor Anirudh Dhebar accepted the award on Ali’s behalf. “Sadly, Abdul suddenly passed away late last year—two days after officially posting his fall 2018 grades and a week before Christmas, which also was his birthday,” said Dhebar. “Abdul, we miss you, and we wish you were here with us to receive the Kennedy Award.”
Ali’s wife and daughters attended the ceremony on his behalf.
Dhebar shared that Ali used to joke he’d never receive the Kennedy Award. “‘I am too demanding of the students,’ he would explain, ‘and I don’t have the charisma,’” added Dhebar. “Well, Abdul, the students disagree with that assessment. And, so do all your colleagues and friends in the Babson community.”
He closed with advice and wisdom from the life of Professor Ali. “Graduating students, as you leave Babson, please take this living example from Abdul with you. And, please do him and his memory proud through your own excellence—in your character, humanity, intellect, and demands of yourself.”