By Keely Savoie
It was raining when Acting President Sonya Stephens presented the President’s Award for Outstanding Service, but the good cheer and goodwill exuded by the assembled staff and faculty made for a high-wattage reception (complete with Mount Holyoke’s signature celebration refreshments, strawberries and champagne) inside the Kendade atrium.
The President’s Award recognizes staff members who go above and beyond to help students, faculty, staff, parents and the greater world. Stephens presented awards to International Relations Department Coordinator Linda Fernandes and Dean of International Studies Joanne Picard of the McCulloch Center for Global Initiatives, each of whom has worked at Mount Holyoke College for more than 40 years, each organizing countless events, programs and initiatives with unassailable professionalism and efficiency.
Over and above their professional competence, the two were recognized for their caring, personal attention, and for their commitment to the College and to the faculty, students and staff who have come to rely on them for their knowledge and compassion, insight and understanding.
“‘What would we do without Linda?’” Stephens began, reading from the Department of International Relations’ nomination of Fernandes.
Murmurs from the assembled crowd suggested that no one wanted to have to answer that question. Stephens went on to highlight Fernandes's long and inimitable career at the College, where she became well-known to all who ever came into contact with her, for her sage advice, home-baked treats and can-do personality.
Stephens listed examples of Fernandes’s dedication and hard work — single-handedly organizing the department’s 35th anniversary party along with the retirement of one of their most distinguished and well-loved faculty members, Vincent Ferraro; taking on the work of a colleague without batting an eye; creating “legendary” Commencement breakfasts for faculty and graduating seniors — and her extraordinary generosity and kindness.
“We could not do this job without her. She is a beloved friend and colleague to us all,” Stephens concluded, presenting Fernandes with an appreciation trophy and certificate.
Fernandes accepted her award, holding back tears.
“I am honored to receive the award and am very lucky to have found a home at Mount Holyoke,” she said. “Not everyone is so blessed when it comes to their work life. My good fortune has kept me at the college for over 41 years. I’m very, very grateful.”
Turning to Picard, Stephens noted Picard’s assiduous construction of a comprehensive study-abroad program that took into account not only the logistics of building such a program — itself a formidable task — but also the experiences of the individual students. Picard built a program to ensure that each student would get the most out of her time abroad as well as making sure that the experience was integrated when the students returned, in order to truly and fully enhance their education.
“Last year [Joanne] organized a workshop on digital storytelling so that students could collaborate on a video and thereby create a reflective piece on their study abroad experience,” said Stephens. Picard supported a student who organized “Women of Color Abroad,” a program that featured stories, tips and resources from students of color who had gone out of the country to study.
Citing Picard’s likeability and effectiveness, her modesty and wisdom, Stephens praised her as being “utterly unflappable,” taking challenges in stride, and always moving forward.
When Stephens presented the award to Picard, she accepted it with characteristic humility.
“I feel truly honored to have been selected for this award from among so many wonderfully talented and dedicated colleagues who are also deserving of recognition,” she said. “It's especially gratifying to receive this honor as I approach retirement, and to share it with Linda Fernandes, whom I have known from my very first day at Mount Holyoke.”
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