Meet the 2020 Tropaia Award Winners
Georgetown College gathered virtually to celebrate the Class of 2020 and honor 41 exceptional seniors at the 101st annual Tropaia ceremony. The Cohonguroton address was presented by Jennifer Miller (C’20), and four graduating seniors received special awards.
The Cohonguroton Address
The Cohonguroton address, which is equivalent to a valedictory address, is delivered by one of the most academically accomplished students in the College at the invitation of the Dean. Cohonguroton is another, and perhaps the oldest, Algonquian name for the river that flows through Washington. This year, Jennifer Miller (C’20), an American Studies major, gave her speech at the ceremony.
In her speech, Miller focused on the importance of asking difficult questions through the lens of COVID-19, noting that the virus has shed light on the inequalities and differences in our society. Miller said that these lessons can be carried forward to graduates’ lives beyond the pandemic, and emphasized the need to continue to solve difficult problems.
“The questions this pandemic has compelled us to ask do not have simple solutions,” Miller says. “But our Georgetown education has prepared us to recognize that new ideas emerge when we meet challenging questions with openness and inventiveness.”
The Coakley Medal
Founded in memory of “Hank” Coakley, the Coakley Medal is presented annually to the member of the senior class who, in the opinion of the faculty, manifested, above all others, the qualities of loving service, honor and courage in all phases of his or her college life.
This year, Maya Stevenson (C’20), an African American studies major has been chosen for this award. Stevenson is the first student to complete an honors thesis in the department. Her thesis, which is centered on medical leave policy, intersectional concerns and impact on students of color, assesses the very important topic of retention efforts and health.
LaMonda Horton-Stallings, Chair and Professor of African American Studies, writes that Stevenson “has been a key advocate in making faculty and students in the department and university more aware and invested in understanding how the subject of disability intersects with considerations of race and gender.” The senior founded the Georgetown Disability Alliance, putting her knowledge to practice in a useful and engaging way.
Stevenson also mentors children in the Girl Talk Program for Duke Ellington School of the Arts in addition to her course load and work in campus offices.
“Her commitment to such time-consuming efforts emphasizes the attributes of generosity and character that makes her such a well-deserving candidate for this award,” says Horton-Stallings “She has a gift for bringing multiple perspectives to questions of importance, and we believe these qualities will make her an effective leader outside of the university.”
The Katherine Kraft Medal
The Katherine Kraft Medal is given each year to the graduating student who best manifested a spirit of humility, cooperation and commitment as a woman or man for others in all phases of his or her college life. Mahesh Kumar (C’20), a neurobiology major, was selected for this award for his continued work, not only as an excellent scholar, but as a person dedicated to helping other individuals.
Kumar, who was in the pre-medical program at Georgetown, worked on two Research Intensive Senior Experience (RISE) projects in addition to serving as curricular consultant for Georgetown Core Pathways. He also spent time at the Duke Ellington School of Arts as an environmental science teacher, and was a favorite choice to help as a peer writing consultant through the Georgetown University Writing Center.
His instructor Anne Rosenwald, professor of microbiology and immunology, said that while she was impressed by his academic prowess, she most noticed Kumar’s willingness to engage and assist other students.
“Mahesh is funny and a huge pleasure to have in class,” says Rosenwald. “Not only does he actively engage with whatever is going on, he makes everyone else want to join in, too.”
The Louis McCahill Award
Eugene and Francis McCahill founded this medal in 1960 in memory of their brother, Louis, who died in the service of his country in the first World War. It is awarded to the student of the graduating class who has shown perseverance and determination of a high order in pursuing his or her educational objectives at Georgetown.
Alberto Comacho Rojas (C’20), a Spanish major, is the recipient of this year’s award. He has demonstrated huge growth academically and personally during his time on the hilltop, earning top marks in many of his classes. Cristina Sanz, professor in the Department of Spanish, said that Rojas brought a great amount of sincerity and humor to her courses that helped him and his fellow classmates succeed.
“Rojas is a serious student, hard-working, and responsible, and one that takes Georgetown values to heart,” says Sanz. “He is quiet and a good listener, but everyone listens when he talks, as what he says is invariable interesting and wise.”
The Spronck Medal
The Lambert H. Spronck Medal is awarded to the student who has combined good scholarship with significant contributions to extracurricular activities, and who has manifested a spirit of giving completely to whatever Georgetown project of activity she or he has engaged in while at the university. This year, Aleida Olvera (C’20) was chosen for this award for her embodiment of the Jesuit values of being a person for others.
Olvera was a Community Scholar during her time at Georgetown. She was actively engaged in the program, connecting with other scholars to share her wisdom and expertise in computer science and beyond.
She also served as co-director for Hoya Hacks, Georgetown University’s inaugural hackathon, tech director of Georgetown Radio and vice president of the Georgetown University Student Association. Devita Bishundat, director of the Community Scholars Program and associate director for the Center for Multicultural Equity & Access, says that engaging in social change has always been immensely important to Olvera, and what she will continue to pour her time, energy and talent into after she leaves the Hilltop.
“Aleida uses her voice to positively impact the lives of others: whether in formal or informal ways, she gives back at every opportunity that she can, says Bishundat. “She strives to use her leadership and technical skills to improve educational equity, fight child exploitation and bring light to the many racial injustices that are deeply embedded in our society. Aleida is truly a gift and I couldn’t be more proud of what she has accomplished for herself and her community.”
-by Shelby Roller (G’19)