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NewsJun 5, 2019

Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley surprises alumni at award ceremony

Five outstanding graduates honored during Alumni Weekend

Ayanna Pressley hugs Sarah Groh
Above: Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley congratulates her chief of staff, Sarah Groh ’11, who received the Joseph Moore Professional Practice Award during Alumni Weekend.

By Georgia Sparling

Sarah Groh ’11 only holds a grudge for a good reason, her boss, Massachusetts Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, said during a surprise appearance at Alumni Weekend.

“It’s only when somebody has harmed someone, only when they’ve impeded justice,” said Pressley.

Groh’s tenacity and commitment to justice — from advocating for more affordable housing to working on behalf of kids in need with Horizons for Homeless Children — earned her the Joseph Moore Professional Practice Award, and the admiration of Pressley, who attributed her “disruptive, improbable, longshot” campaign win over a long-term incumbent to Groh, who served as her campaign manager and now chief of staff.

Andrea Taylor Dunkley, Sarah Groh, Ayanna Pressley - posed shot with Sarah holding her award
Award presenter Andrea Taylor Dunkley (left) and Ayanna Pressley (right) praised Sarah Groh's achievements and social activism.

“I would not be a congresswoman were it not for all the sacrifices she made – her brilliance, her laboring in love, her sweat equity. And that, on its own, is something to celebrate,” said Pressley, who first met Groh during a visit to Lesley, and surprised her during Saturday’s award ceremony on the South Campus lawn. “She really does make you want to level up.”

Groh, a former Undergraduate Student Government president and Lesley soccer player, thanked Pressley for “seeing in me potential I did not see in myself” and thanked Lesley for the opportunities she received as a student. She also praised Lesley’s current students, saying she was “fiercely proud” of undocumented students, LGBTQ students and all those who are moving the university to become a more diverse, just and intentional community.

In addition to Groh, four other Lesley graduates received alumni awards at the annual luncheon on Saturday, part of a weekend of reconnection with college friends, the Lesley campus and Cambridge.

The four alumni award winners pose under the tent
The 2019 alumni award-winners (l-r): Shirley Chin, Mary Grassi, Enzo Surin, Sarah Groh. Not pictured: Sgt. Elize McKelvey

See photos from the weekend in our Facebook album.

Shirley Chin ’08 accepted the Myrtle Peirce Aulenback Alumni Achievement Award for her dedication to the Lesley community. As Lesley’s assistant director of alumni recruitment and logistics, Chin helped spearhead the new Alumni Admissions Ambassador Program.

She encouraged alumni to use the resources and confidence they gained at Lesley to help current students.

“The best thing we can do for Lesley is to stay involved, stay connected,” Chin told fellow alumni. “Students need to hear our voices.”

A longtime reading specialist for Cambridge-area schools, Mary Grassi ’74 has spent more than four decades in education, for which she received the Margaret A. McKenna Alumni Community Service Award.

“My years as an undergraduate here helped reinforce my thinking about service,” said Grassi. She accepted the award on behalf of the families she works with as the homeless liaison for Cambridge Public Schools.

Sgt. Elize McKeley painting a mural
Deployed just before she Alumni Weekend, Staff Sgt. Elize McKelvey was unable to receive her award in person.

The next award went to Elize McKelvey ’12, an Art Institute of Boston (AIB), now Lesley’s College of Art and Design, graduate. A Marine staff sergeant, she was unable to accept the Recent Alumni Award in person because she was deployed to Afghanistan on Friday to do a job she first learned about while studying at AIB.

As part of the Marine Corps Combat Artists program, whose motto is “Go to war, do art,” McKelvey “has traveled the world using art to capture the human condition under the most trying of circumstances,” said presenter and fellow artist Sarah Rubenstein ’12. McKelvey learned about the program while majoring in illustration. The day after commencement, she boarded a plane to boot camp and has since worked on the frontlines, created commemorative murals and more as a way to depict the work of the Marines.

Fellow creative Enzo Silon Surin ’12 also received an award on Saturday for his commitment to the arts, community service and education. Surin is a professor at Bunker Hill Community College, a poet and the founder of Central Square Press, as well as a recipient of the 2017 Brother Thomas Fellowship and a PEN New England Celebrated New Voice in Poetry winner.

Enzo Silon Surin side view as he walks up to receive his award
Poet Enzo Silon Surin received the Sally K. Lenhardt Professional Leadership Award.

“Writing for Enzo is a form of social action, building up individuals to achieve their life’s purpose, and so (he) works to create emotional space in order to process tough topics,” said Laurie Thompson ’84, who presented him with the Sally K. Lenhardt Professional Leadership Award.

“Poetry provides a platform to not only express ourselves but to also share our concerns and our fears, to help us cope, connect, heal,” said Surin, a graduate of our MFA in Creative Writing program. “At a time when the world seems to be declaring war on marginalized communities, it is increasingly important to use our voices to create and nurture community.”

Surin closed the celebration by reading a poem inspired by the high school English teacher who encouraged him to read poetry.