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Princeton Weekly Bulletin   March 5, 2007, Vol. 96, No. 18   prev   next   current

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Alumni Day

Alumni award winners stress value of public service

Princeton NJ — The University’s top alumni award winners, former U.S. Sen. Paul Sarbanes and Africare President Julius Coles, emphasized the need for people to engage in public service, from the local to the global level, in their Alumni Day addresses Saturday, Feb. 24.

Sarbanes and Coles also joined Princeton scholars in a panel discussion exploring the global response to the genocide and humanitarian crisis in the Darfur region of Sudan. The panel featured unscheduled comments from former U.S. Senate majority leader and Princeton alumnus Bill Frist, who was in Darfur just days earlier.


Paul Sarbanes (photo: Denise Applewhite)

Sarbanes, a member of Princeton’s class of 1954, received the Woodrow Wilson Award, which is bestowed annually upon an undergraduate alumnus or alumna whose career embodies the call to duty in Wilson’s famous speech, “Princeton in the Nation’s Service.”

Coles, a 1966 graduate alumnus, was awarded the James Madison Medal. The award is presented each year by the University to an alumnus or alumna of the Graduate School who has had a distinguished career, advanced the cause of graduate education or achieved an outstanding record of public service.

Both Sarbanes and Coles are graduates of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs

In his address, Sarbanes reflected on his 40-year career as an elected official and urged his fellow alumni to engage in service on all levels. Sarbanes’ career began with election to the Maryland House of Delegates in 1966, followed by three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and five terms in the U.S. Senate — making him the longest-serving senator in Maryland’s history.

“My four marvelous years here at Princeton reinforced and informed the principles of public service that I had learned at home, in school and in the community,” Sarbanes said.

He encouraged the audience to widen the scope of the definition of public service.

“In thinking about public service, we’re often too quick to draw a rigid line between the public and the private sectors and assign service to the public interest exclusively, or nearly exclusively, to the public sector,” Sarbanes said. “We tend to reserve for the private sector the pursuit of personal interest with little regard for a public dimension. But I’d like to submit to you this morning what I would call public service in the private sector. And I hope that everyone will find ways to honor this principle in the course of a lifetime.”


Julius Coles (photo: Denise Applewhite)

Coles had a 28-year career with the U.S. Agency for International Development before assuming the leadership of Africare in 2002. In his address, he discussed a range of challenges facing Africa, including growing economic disparities, HIV/AIDS, malaria, malnourishment, political corruption and rising debts. But he also pointed to positive trends, such as an increasing number of democracies and a demographic shift that will lead to Africa having one of the world’s youngest populations by 2050, potentially creating a talent pool that will fuel investment in Africa by the global business community.

Like Sarbanes, Coles stressed the value of service at all levels, noting that Africare — a leading nonprofit organization specializing in aid to Africa — was founded on the belief that “we can best work together in partnership with African communities at the grassroots level. We believe that our approach is to place communities at the center of development.”

In the afternoon panel discussion, Sarbanes and Coles were joined by Wilson School faculty members Jennifer Widner and Gary Bass for a discussion titled “Never Again? The Crisis in Darfur.” Coles and Widner offered historical perspectives on the crisis, while Sarbanes and Bass provided views on intervention options.

The panel members and moderator Anne-Marie Slaughter, dean of the Wilson School, also called for comments from Frist, a member of Princeton’s class of 1974 and former senator from Tennessee. Frist, a physician, was attending Alumni Day soon after returning from Darfur, where he provided medical care to refugees.

In his remarks to close the panel, Frist addressed both students and alumni in urging greater engagement on the Darfur issue. “The American people do need to stand up, whether it’s through divestment or whether it is through the campaigns that are going on, or through contributions, or through documentaries. It does make a real difference.”


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