Views in Talloires

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The MacJannet Foundation Encourages University Student Civic Engagement

Remarks delivered by Wenke Thoman Sterns to the Talloires Network conference prior to presenting the MacJannet Prize winners in Cape Town, South Africa, December 2014.

Good afternoon. My name is Wenke Thoman Sterns, I am a trustee of the MacJannet Foundation, and I feel extremely privileged to be here in beautiful Cape Town and South Africa among so many distinguished represen­tatives of the Talloires Network aca­demic community and the impres­sive MacJannet Prize winners.
Donald and Charlotte MacJan­net would be amazed and proud that their name graces the MacJannet Prize. They were global citizens before there was a United Nations. Donald MacJannet launched his humanitarian career following World War I with a noble but limited vi­sion: to build bridges between Amer­icans and French, first through his small international school in Paris and then, in 1925, at a summer camp in the beautiful village of Talloires on the shores of Lake Annecy in the French Alps. By the time he died in 1986, Donald and his German-born wife Charlotte had expanded the vi­sion to embrace people of all back­grounds and numerous nationalities.

Their co-educational schools promoted hands-on and experiential learning. They believed in physical hard work, creativity and the salutary effects of exposure to natural beauty. They were problem solvers. And above all they were listeners.

They developed a legion of students and campers who never forgot the life lessons they learned, and in fact many of their students have become passionate about car­rying on their legacy. Our own Dr. Robert Hollister, one of the architects of the Talloires Network, was a MacJan­net camper in the 1950s, and my former husband and I were recipients of a scholarship that allowed us to study in Geneva, Switzerland in 1967 and 1968. I never forgot that experience and have worked tirelessly to enable stu­dents to have an opportunity to study abroad.
Donald and Charlotte MacJannet were not wealthy, but they were rich— rich with big ideas, ideas that started small and became global. Their summer camp was closed in 1963 and another chapter began. Mr. and Mrs. MacJannet bought a beautiful crumbling 11th-Century Priory in Talloires, not far from the old campsite. Donald recruited visitors, former campers, and friends to help in the restoration. The Priory became a sanctuary for writers and poets, international sym­posiums and and cultural events of all kinds. Donald MacJan­net, a Tufts graduate, made sure that the presidents of Tufts University came to visit. The Macs and Dr. Jean Mayer held the first international meeting of the University Presidents Conference in 1982. How prescient— this meeting was the forerunner to the Talloires Network in 1990. And as some of you know, in 1978 the Macs donated the Priory to Tufts University, and it is one of the most successful “remote” campuses of any university in North America.

The MacJannet Foundation was formed in 1968 with a corpus of $50,000. What could we do with such a small amount? Did I mention that the MacJannets were frugal— that they could stretch a penny for a mile? The Foundation relies heavily on volun­teers to run the organization, and our philosophy is to use small grants to seed programs that will grow and prosper if the idea is right.
Building a community of global citizens— that is our mission. Most of the programs we seeded are now fully mature and don’t need much help from us. So that brings me to the next chapter in the MacJannet legacy: The MacJannet Prize!

The Talloires Network is a shining example of an idea that has become a huge success, and I am in awe and honored to be standing here today. Faculties and students engaging with their local communities— this is the end product. Service and experiential learning— this is global stewardship and citizenship. This is why we send our children to university. This is why we learn. This is what mattered to the MacJannets.

Since the inception of the MacJannet Prize in 2009 there have been 400 nominations from 303 universities in 136 countries. These programs have involved thousands of teachers, students and community members. We could not appreciate then how meaningful it would become— not only to the 39 MacJannet Prize winners but for the peer and community recognition the Prize recipients have garnered and the press coverage that the Prize has attracted for participating student programs. And finally, the prizewinners have been able to meet and share and compare experiences and to discover that, despite their geographical and language differences, they can learn from each other how to overcome common challenges.
The Talloires Network and the MacJannet Prize have moved the bar and have heightened public, private and governmental awareness across the globe about the value of community engagement and the importance of the commitment by universities to elevate civic engagement around the world.

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