Honoring Civic Engagement
A COVID-19 community response team. A mock Iowa caucus to build political engagement. Weekly seminars connecting the Torah to current events. Plans for virtual education in the time of a pandemic shutdown. These are just a few of the ways that The Fletcher School’s 2019-2020 Honos Civicus winners engaged and served their communities over the last year.
Seventeen Fletcher students have received Honos Civicus honors, an annual award through Tufts University’s Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life that celebrates and publicly recognizes those students who have gone to exceptional lengths in their commitment to community service and civic engagement during their studies. Their achievements, along with those of the other Tufts 2020 Honos Civicus Inductees, was celebrated via a virtual ceremony with the Dean of the Tisch College Alan D. Solomont.
The award, which means “civic honors” in Latin, reflects The Fletcher School’s goal of “educating internationally minded students who are committed to active citizenship throughout their professional careers,” according to the award website.
This year, these commitments ranged from the religious to the political to the communal. They included leading various academic conferences, student clubs, and committees and organizing efforts to respond to both common community issues as well as to the extraordinary ones, unique to this year’s novel coronavirus pandemic which has shuttered schools and taxed local healthcare infrastructure.
“In these trying times, it's easy to forget that this too shall pass and that we will be better for it. I knew this about the Fletcher community, and yet, learned that when a crisis hits, there is no other group I would rather face this storm with than the students at The Fletcher School,” said Natalie Espinosa, who received the Honos Civicus honor for her work helping to transition instruction online during the pandemic. “I learned that if we organize, if we share conversations, if we are vulnerable, we are all so unbelievably strong. Fletcher has the amazing ability [to bring] together individuals with extraordinary expertise and backgrounds.”
Espinosa is not alone in being honored for her work on that specific crisis. Amanda Schwartz, too, will receive Honos Civicus honors for her work building a COVID-19 Task Force. The rapid response team applied lessons learned in a Fletcher class on grand strategy to the burgeoning crisis in the early spring, especially by repairing 5,000 N-95 masks for use by medical personnel in the Boston area.
Espinosa and Schwartz will be honored during The Fletcher School's Class of 2020 virtual commencement ceremony on May 17, 2020 along with their fellow Honos Civicus Fletcher graduate inductees: William Ballard, Exequiel Caceres, Tashi Chogyal, Nicholas Cicchinelli, Audry DaDalt, Ella Duncan, Samuel Green, Prayank Jain, Roxani Krystalli, Joshua Lavine, Olivia Maigret, Manaved Nambiar, Hiroki Tanaka, Hallie Westlund, and Kelsey Wise.
Many of this year’s nominees were engaged in volunteer work through The Fletcher School, especially leading initiatives to promote diversity and inclusion through the school’s student council or by organizing annual student-led events, conferences, and travel. Students often attempted to also apply the skills they learned in the classroom to outside projects and issues that matter most to each.
DaDalt served as co-chair for this year’s Conference on Gender and International Affairs within the school, and she applied knowledge gained at Fletcher to her volunteer work with Rosie’s Place, a women’s shelter in the Boston area.
“Process matters just as much as vision in policymaking,” DaDalt said. “We all have visions of how we want a program or policy to turn out in the end. But if the process behind which we get to that vision is not just and equitable, we can end up doing a lot more harm than good to the communities we are serving.”
Other honorees took a more political tact to their involvement. Green served as co-president of the Fletcher Democrats, while Chogyal formed a new political club this year, The Fletcher Progressive Initiative. Each worked to involve students in the democratic political process and engage in a debate to define a progressive foreign policy.
“Often times, discussions I’ve had with members of Fletcher Dems (Democrats) have challenged my previously held beliefs,” Green said. “Promoting the importance of civic engagement amongst my peers in a small way with Fletcher Democrats has been rewarding. It has provided a structure for myself and others to turn our attention to our institutions and civic processes, even when overwhelmed with schoolwork and commitments, and for that I am thankful.”
Lavine, meanwhile, brought such discussions about politics and beliefs to others, delivering biweekly lectures at his synagogue in New York that connected readings from the Torah to current events in the United States, Israel and around the world.
“Explaining the relevance of current events to someone who may not be as engaged is not always easy,” Lavine said. “However, it is arguably more important to reach those who do not show interest because the more informed people are, the more positive change can happen.”
Regardless of whether their work happened in the school, in the community, or in a place of worship, in order to receive Honos Civicus honors, each of this year’s nominees demonstrated their commitment to public service, demonstrated leadership and dedication, made a positive impact, and showed their commitment to “Fletcher’s mission of increasing international understanding and promoting relationships of mutual benefit, security and justice around the world.”
It is an experience all hope to take forward into their careers in government service, the private sector, or in non-profit work to benefit the world beyond The Fletcher School.
“My main learning over the past two years is that one must pass on all the kindness that has been show to them,” Nambiar said. “All throughout my interactions with The Fletcher School, I have been surrounded by kind and understanding people, and everything I did on a volunteer basis was to carry forward what they gave me. In a broader sense, while there is a lot that is wrong in the world, community service is a simple thing that everyone can do. … Charity begins at home, and as a student of The Fletcher School, before I embark on the perilous quest of helping the world, I wanted to help the ones in my immediate vicinity.”