Winners of the 2018 Grawemeyer Awards were in Louisville April 10-12 to give free, public presentations about their award-winning ideas.
The honorees included a celebrated music composer, an advocate for the overhaul of college financial aid, an expert on African genocide, the founder of black liberation theology and a psychologist who explains the many types of intelligence.
Here’s a recap of the winners, their ideas, and what we learned during their Louisville visit:
Sara Goldrick-Rab, Education
The idea: Goldrick-Rab’s 2016 book, “Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid and the Betrayal of the American Dream,” followed thousands of college students throughout six years as they worked to earn a college degree. Some of the students succeeded, but many failed due to financial pressures. Goldrick-Rab is an advocate for free college and an overhaul of the financial aid system.
Did you know? Goldrick-Rab donated her $100,000 Grawemeyer Award prize to the Faculty And Students Together (FAST) Fund, a program that gets emergency dollars to college students. Also, during Goldrick-Rab’s visit, she was so impressed with the Family Scholar House model that she will begin using it as an example of how universities can help students who are also parents.
Words of wisdom: “If we want hard work and talent to determine where people get in life, then we have to do more to address income disparity. We are going to need to expand educational opportunity. And that’s not a giveaway — because it has a huge return on investment.”
On winning the award: “It was rather stunning. They called and I cried. One of the reasons I cried was because I was looking for a way to put more resources into FAST — now we have a really robust FAST Fund.”
James H. Cone, Religion
Cone was not able to travel to Louisville, but received the award in a private ceremony at Union Theological Seminary in New York.
The idea: Cone’s 2013 book, “The Cross and the Lynching Tree,” examines correlations between the persecution of African American Christians and Jesus. Between 1880 and 1940, nearly 5,000 black men and women were lynched in the U.S. In response, African American Christians turned to their religion and to the cross of Jesus as a symbol of suffering but also of profound hope.
Did you know? Cone became a pastor at age 16 and is the founder of black liberation theology. His beliefs were shaped and influenced by Malcolm X, the Black Power movement and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Words of wisdom: “The crucifixion was clearly a first-century lynching. Both are symbols of the death of the innocent, mob hysteria, humiliation and terror. They both also reveal a thirst for life that refuses to let the worst determine our final meaning and demonstrate that God can transform ugliness into beauty, into God’s liberating presence.”
On winning the award: “I’m deeply honored to be included among the distinguished scholars who have received this award before me. ‘The Cross and the Lynching Tree’ is my favorite book. I put my heart, soul, everything into that little text. I’m pleased that so many people have recognized something of the spirit, the energy and the spirituality that I put into it.”
Scott Straus, Ideas Improving World Order
The idea: Scott Straus’ 2015 book, “Making and Unmaking Nations: War, Leadership, and Genocide in Modern Africa,” examines how certain environmental and political situations can set the stage for genocide. His extensive research illuminates the unrest-to-violence-to-genocide process and gives leaders and agencies a guideline for stopping the unthinkable before it happens.
Did you know? Straus was formerly a freelance journalist in Africa following the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. “My career has been about trying to understand how and why this happened,” said Straus. This desire to understand laid the foundation for his decades of research into African genocide.
Words of wisdom: “War is the cauldron in which genocide is formed. But you can interrupt the process. The idea (in my book) was to understand not just what drives the violence forward, but also what holds it back.”
On winning the award: “When I got the call from Chuck (Ziegler), it was just such an incredible honor — the culmination of my life’s work on this topic. If my book can make a contribution to a world where genocide is less frequent because we understand it better then, wow, that’s amazing. I would feel incredibly satisfied for my life’s work.”
Robert Sternberg, Psychology
The idea: Sternberg’s view is that success in life encompasses several components of intelligence: analytical-reasoning skills, creative-thinking skills, common-sense practical skills and wisdom-based and ethical skills. People who learn to capitalize on their own skills — and compensate for those that they lack—are likely to be successful. Sternberg is an advocate for revamping the college admissions process to recognize these nuances in intelligence because current methods favor only learners who excel at memory and analytical reasoning.
Did you know? Sternberg became interested in intelligence testing in elementary school after his poor performance on an IQ test caused his teachers to consider sending him to a lower grade to try again.
Words of wisdom: “Successful intelligence is what you make of your life. You need to figure out what you’re good at, and what you’re bad at, and capitalize on your strengths while remediating for your weaknesses.”
On winning the award: “Professionally, it’s great. It’s the highest award you can win in psychology and, personally, it means even more because I grew up in a family where both of my parents dropped out of high school and none of my grandparents went to high school.”
Bent Sorensen, Music Composition
The idea: Sorensen composed his award-winning triple concerto, L’isola della Città (The Island in the City), for the Danish ensemble Trio con Brio and The Danish National Symphony Orchestra. His inspiration for the piece came when he was standing on a balcony in Copenhagen and observed the ebb and flow of the city below him. “In all five movements the ‘island’ (the trio) tries to escape the shadows of the orchestra. This is most evident in the last movement, in which the trio ever so silently and without attracting any attention, simply glides away from the orchestra’s noisy shadows,” Sorensen wrote.
Did you know? Sorensen began to write music when he was in elementary school. He says his father wanted him to play the violin and then, later, the piano. “But I didn’t have the patience,” Sorensen said. He dedicated L’isola della Città to his parents.
Words of wisdom: “There is a magic in music that I can’t explain. It’s like love. Music is more psychology than sound. It’s what we feel.”
On winning the award: I was very honored because I can see the list of composers (who have previously won the award). When you get on that list, then you know you have done something.”
The Grawemeyer Awards, established by philanthropist Charles Grawemeyer, recognize outstanding works in music composition, ideas improving world order, psychology and education, and gives a religion prize jointly with Louisville Presbyterian Theological. Winners of the award receive $100,000 each and attend a gala event in their honor.