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Emily Adelman '05

Our 2005 JFK Award Winner Works for Universal Literacy

Emily Adelman

Emily Adelman, 2005 winner of our John F. Kennedy Award, works in Washington, D.C. for a not-for-profit organization that teaches local Latino residents how start their own businesses. Emily has thus begun to make her dream career of combining her interest in adult education and literacy with a focus on inclusion and community development.

Emily’s outstanding personal characteristics are her warmth and gentle enthusiasm. Her eyes light up when she describes her chosen work, “the intersection of community-based organizations, government, businesses, and families as they work together to promote literacy.” Her great delight in and love of helping people first manifested itself at Cornell, where she was involved in numerous extracurricular activities.

Adelman presentation

From left: Carolyn Chauncey Neuman (Cornell Trustee), Joan Melville (VP, JFK Award), Emily Adelman '05 and Mike Newman (former VP, JFK Award)

A founding member of Cornell’s Sustainable Enterprise Association, which provides education, resources, and practical opportunities to undergraduates interested in the practice of sustainable enterprise, Emily created the organization’s website and oversaw the development of its infrastructure, providing contacts with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County. She worked with the Community Learning and Service Partnership (CLASP) at Cornell, tutoring an adult service worker in GED test preparation, and was a Translator Interpreter in the TIP program for community and government agencies in Tompkins County. Emily was regularly called upon to translate for the Red Cross of Tompkins County.

Emily’s interest in literacy in Latin America led her to become an active member of CUSLAR, the Committee on U.S.-Latin American Relations, where she performed a variety of tasks: editing the newsletter, publicizing events, arranging donations of food, and coordinating relationships with other groups such as the donation of shoes to villages in Ecuador through Cornell’s “Dump and Run” program.

Another of Emily’s projects was her work-study position at the New York Campus Compact, as the publications and communications associate, where she compiled and designed the annual report. Through this organization Cornell and its peer institutions have maintained statewide leadership in supporting and increasing student involvement in academic and co-curricular based public service and democratic participation.

A creative soul at heart, Emily found time to be an active member of the Spanish Theatre Workshop at Cornell. She served at different points in time as the Teatrotaller treasurer, publicist, set designer, and appeared as a character in the troupe’s performances for students and the Ithaca community. She was also part of the first board of the CUTonight Commission, which provided funding for late-night cultural and social events for Cornell students on campus. She was then elected as the second Chair of CUTonight, working closely with the Student Activities Office and a wide range of student organizations.

Adelman presentation

Joan Melville presenting the Award certificate to Emily Adelman

Her studies did not suffer from her strong involvement in extracurricular activities: during her four years at Cornell, Emily maintained a 4.06 cumulative grade point average.

However, the most deeply life-changing moments of her four years at Cornell occurred off campus. Emily describes her months in Spain and Argentina as the most influential experiences of her college career. Sponsored by a grant from the Dean’s Scholars’ Program to study adult literacy, Emily traveled to Buenos Aires to research and write her honors thesis about a piquetero social movement, Barrios de Pie, in Argentina. Observing the unemployed worker movement in South America taught Emily the “power of the media, the importance of leadership, and how “subtle, socialized fear of poor neighborhoods and outspoken political organizations can be dispelled by talking to people individually.” She arrived in Spain for her semester abroad a few weeks before the “11-M” bombings in Madrid. Both Spain and Argentina were sites of political unrest during her visits there. The experiences she had in Salamanca and Buenos Aires, which she describes as involving “great emotional risks,” helped Emily develop what she calls her “unruly sense of idealism.” During this time she realized that “if one simply takes the step to make that phone call or to write that email, one can start a process of change” organizing a “point of convergence of a thousand good wills, visions for the future, and hands working together.” Emily left Cornell curious and returned to college “a politically-engaged citizen with a public consciousness”.

Emily Adelman is truly an extraordinary young woman, who, as her faculty adviser observes, “is without a doubt the most intelligent, articulate, sensitive, and compassionate individual I have met in any position […] at Cornell.” She has already “represented Cornell with both honor and dignity” and no doubt will continue to do so on into the future as she realizes her career goals and great potential.

Update: August, 2009: "Alumna receives prestigious graduate scholarship".