What would Eleanor do?
For the Eleanor Roosevelt Center at Val-Kill (ERVK) in Hyde Park, the question is more of a call to action than a daydream. It’s one that guides the nonprofit in its efforts to foster leadership and open doors for the next generation of change makers across the globe. It’s also one that extends to the select class of social justice and human rights advocates the center honors at its Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill Medal Ceremony. An annual awards event, the ceremony has in the past honored thought leaders like Gloria Steinem, Hillary Clinton, James Earl Jones, Pete Seeger, and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., to name a few.
On October 13, ERVK added five more names to its list of medalists. In tribute to Eleanor Roosevelt, dubbed “The First Lady of the World,” the ceremony recognized global advocates Chelsea Clinton, author and vice chair of the Clinton Foundation; author, humanitarian, and journalist Zainab Salbi; President and CEO of Celebrity Cruises Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, and Hyde Park philanthropists John and Gloria Golden.
A moving occasion from the start, the ERVK awards focused on the notion of conversation. Just as the nominees themselves generate buzz within the global community, so too do the awards mimic the exchange of thoughts and ideas. With each award, industry leaders close to the nominees shared anecdotes and spoke directly to the award recipients themselves. Their moving stories coupled with the narratives of the medalists resulted in an afternoon that would have made Mrs. Roosevelt proud.
“Dedicated to serving others, these inspiring honorees have made an irrevocable impact on the global community,” says April Gozza, executive director of ERVK. “We were thrilled to have the opportunity to honor and celebrate their contributions, which put into action Eleanor’s ideals. This year was especially momentous as it marked the first time both a mother and daughter have received the medal.”
In fact, that mother-and-daughter duo was none other than Hillary and Chelsea Clinton. After receiving the Val-Kill Medal in 1995, Hillary presented the award to her daughter in honor of Chelsea’s work as an author and educator.
“We have a lot of work to do to restore the hope Eleanor Roosevelt gave the world all those years ago,” Hillary stressed during her opening speech. “[Chelsea] brings her loving, big heart to everything she does.”
Upon taking the stage, Chelsea affirmed her mother’s words as she described her motivation for writing children’s books like She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World and I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark.
“I believe children’s books are the first way to say to kids, ‘here’s what’s possible and what isn’t,’” Chelsea says. Like fellow medal recipient Zainab Salbi, she emphasized the kindness and optimism of Eleanor Roosevelt as her inspiration to give back and do her part to change the world.
Indeed, Mrs. Roosevelt’s efforts to inspire global change remained at the forefront of the ceremony. Take nominee Lutoff-Perlo, for instance. As she expressed during the awards, her role as President and CEO of Celebrity Cruises is one that allows her to lead social change. Under her influence, women like Kate McCue, the Master Captain of Celebrity Cruises, have stepped into leadership roles in a notoriously male-dominated industry.
“[Lutoff-Perlo] is committed to championing gender diversity at sea,” McCue enthuses. “She didn’t just man the newest ship in our fleet, she wo-maned it.”
In the Hudson Valley, award recipients John and Gloria Golden prove that change can happen close to home, too. Over the course of their nearly 70-year marriage, “Mr. and Mrs. Hyde Park” have worked to revitalize the region through their involvement with Hudson River Housing, Northern Dutchess Hospital, the FDR Roosevelt Educational Foundation, and the Hyde Park Planning Board, to name only a few. Most recently, the duo began work to renovate the Hyde Park School District’s fitness center and established the John and Gloria Golden Fund to support community developments in Hyde Park into the future.
As Ms. Roosevelt affirmed, after all, “the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”