Inaugural Camellia Student Leadership Awards Honor Outstanding Leaders at Wellesley

Students sit in the audience at the Camellia Awards ceremony.
April 25, 2018

The Camellia Student Leadership Awards, given for the first time in Wellesley history at an April 20 ceremony, celebrate outstanding individual and group leadership endeavors both on and off campus.

Named after the camellia tree given to Wellesley by the College’s founders, Henry and Pauline Durant, the awards recognize the longstanding commitment of Wellesley women to leadership and service. A symbol of strength, grace, and ongoing growth, the Durant Camellia has borne silent witness to the development of exceptional leaders throughout the College’s history.

“The Camellia serves as a symbol of growth and perseverance,” said Carol Bate, associate dean of students, at the ceremony in the Alumnae Ballroom. “It is a reminder that no matter how old we get and how much we have accomplished, we never finish developing as leaders. There is always something more to learn and practice.”

To help foster an optimal growth environment for leadership, the College convened a working group in 2015 to study the cultivation of leadership at Wellesley, as well as current theoretical models of leadership that resonated with the campus culture. The group identified three over-arching disciplines—self-awareness, engagement with others, and connection to purpose—for core leadership competencies that could be developed, and that were already exhibited in notable ways by students. Under the guidance of Sheilah Horton, vice president and dean of students, the Camellia Awards celebrate the expression of those competencies by current students and honor their consistent contributions to campus.

Nearly 130 nominations were submitted for 80 student leaders and for individual and group awards in 10 categories, including Community Cultivation Leadership, Resilience in Leadership, Team Leadership, Community Partnership Leadership, and Creative Leadership. Award nominees included organizers of tutoring and mentoring programs in under-resourced communities, creative problem-solvers, leaders who exemplify a balanced pursuit of excellence, contributors to inclusivity, and tireless defenders of social justice causes. Bate and a team of staff from student life and Career Education had the difficult task of choosing the winners from the pool of remarkable nominees.

“It was a great honor to read all of the nearly 130 nominations … I was moved by the stories of deep friendship, unwavering determination, passionate devotion, and pure grace,” Bate told the audience at the ceremony. She added that the goal of the awards was “not to honor the attainment of leadership positions or the accomplishment of tasks,” but rather the how of leadership: “They are about honoring the ways in which challenges were overcome, dialogues were fostered, partnerships were created, understanding was developed, and goals were accomplished.”

Emily Boyk ’18, a political science and women’s and gender studies double major from Bowling Green, Ohio, and recipient of the Team Leadership Award for her thoughtful and team-centered leadership of Sexual Assault Awareness for Everyone (SAAFE), remarked, “SAAFE has been doing the difficult but vital work of education and activism around interpersonal violence for a long time, and I am thrilled to see that work being noticed and appreciated by members of the Wellesley community… If I and the rest of the Camellia Award winners are any kind of leaders, it is only because other student leaders past and present have shown us how, by modeling resilience and practicing courageous leadership.” 

“Students at Wellesley lead with passion and heart,” said Sydney Stewart ’18, a peace and justice studies major and education minor from Orangeburg, S.C., and recipient of the Sed Ministrare Student Leadership award for her service to campus as a thoughtful and consistent voice on issues impacting students of color who work with Ethos and College Government. “Wherever they go, they carry their organizations and interests with them… Leadership, for me, has always been about my community.”

Noting the distinctive meaning of leadership at Wellesley, President Paula A. Johnson said, “The very fabric of the Wellesley experience is defined by a culture of participation, social responsibility, and citizenship. Service is leadership … Our student leaders value teamwork and collaboration, act honorably, and are guided by a deep sense of purpose and a willingness to do the work that is necessary, all aspects of what we mean when we say excellence.”

Individual award recipients received a custom-designed sterling silver camellia pin, and student groups were presented with a plaque to be displayed in perpetuity in the campus center, as well as a $100 grant to promote the work of their organizations.

This year’s Camellia award winners included:

Community Cultivation Leadership Award – Dina Al-Zu’Bi ’19

Emerging Leadership Award – Paola Gonzalez ’20

Resilience in Leadership Award – Hannah Weissman ’19

Balanced Leadership Award – Mariana Hernandez ’19

Team Leadership Award – Emily Boyk ’18

Sed Ministrare Student Leadership Award – Sydney Stewart ’18

Inclusive Leadership Award – Ianka Bhatia ’18

Community Partnership Leadership Award – Science Learning and Mentoring (SLAM)

Creative Leadership Award – Dissues

Collaborative Excellence Leadership Award – Executive Board of STEMKit