An Award of Merit is made annually by the president of the Alumni Association. The association president, or someone designated by the association president, presents the award at the college on Homecoming day to an alumnus/na of the college for distinguished and meritorious service to the United States, to his/her native state, to St. John’s College, or for outstanding achievement within his/her chosen field. Awards have been made to graduates, non-graduates, and honorary alumni.
To submit a name for nomination consideration, please submit the Award of Merit Nomination Form.
For extraordinary advocacy of freedom and democracy and service to the people of Latvia as Prime Minister
Mr. Kariņš is the Prime Minister of Latvia. He may be the only Johnnie alumnus to date to serve as head of state of a sovereign nation. He became prime minister in 2019 and has led one of the longest serving Latvian governments in modern history.
As a freshman in 1984, Mr. Kariņš received an honorable mention for the best freshman essay, an honor he has touted throughout his adult life. He continued his education at the University of Pennsylvania, where he received a Ph.D in linguistics. Mr. Kariņš later moved to Latvia where he was first elected to Latvia’s parliament in 2002, and in 2009 was elected to serve as a member of the European Parliament. As Prime Minister, Mr. Kariņš has been an outspoken advocate for freedom and democracy, arguing that “Democracy is contagious. It is an attractive idea because it is the people, not autocrats, who decide who runs the country and in which direction to move.”
For achievement in the field of law and international relations
Pedro J. Martinez-Fraga is a renowned international lawyer. He is a partner at law firm of Bryan, Cave, Leighton, and Paisner, where he co-leads the firm’s international arbitration team, and is a World Bank arbitrator. He served as lead U.S. counsel on behalf of the Republic of Chile in the case against former Chilean President, Augusto Pinochet, and has also worked on the prosecutions of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and deposed Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
His writings in the fields of public and private international law have been published in 15 countries and five languages, including more than 50 reviewed articles and six books. Mr. Martinez-Fraga has lectured at more than 30 universities across the globe. He is an Honorary Professor of Law at both the Universidad de San Ignacio de Loyola and the Universidad del Pacífico in Lima, Perú.
For achievement in the field of education
Mr. Roth has dedicated his life to teaching in the St. John’s mode. He is Chair of the English Department at Thomas Jefferson School in St. Louis, where he has taught English, Greek, and math for almost 30 years and coached basketball for more than 20 seasons. The school has small, seminar based discussions in every discipline and boasts that its average student will have read 80 works of classic literature by graduation. His school’s basketball court has ἀρετή painted on its floor and a local newspaper once found it noteworthy to state that “The varsity basketball team huddles with coach Boaz Roth, then springs back and yells, full-throated: ‘Arete!’ This is how one cheers at Thomas Jefferson School.”
In addition to his Masters from St. John’s, where he is remembered both for his focus as a student and a driven basketball player, Mr. Roth earned a B.A. with a double major in philosophy and economic theory from the American University.
For achievement in the arts and exploration
John Ruskey is a river guide, adventurer, canoe builder, artist, and Bluesman. With his company, the Quapaw Canoe Company, he leads canoe tours on the Mississippi River 200 days out of the year, in addition to workshops for ecological education and camps for local kids. One of his long running projects is rivergator.org, an all-encompassing internet and print resource providing detailed instructions for paddling the Mississippi River between St. Louis and the Gulf of Mexico.
Mr. Ruskey was the first curator of the Delta Blues Museum and is the co-founder and director of the Delta Blues Education Fund. Mr. Ruskey has written a monthly column, “Down in the Delta,” for Blues Revue Magazine since 1998. In 1997, he won the Early Wright Blues Heritage Award, presented to a non-musician for outstanding work to preserve, promote, perpetuate, and document Blues in the Mississippi Delta.
Mr. Ruskey has maintained his association with the college and frequently mentions his education there and has led a seminar on the Mississippi River with other alumni on Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
For achievement in the field of journalism and distinguished service to the college and its alumni
Robert George (A85) has served both the college and its alumni through extensive volunteer activity, including service on the Alumni Association Board and its committees, the Board of Visitors and Governors, and volunteering as a DJ for nearly every Annapolis homecoming over the past three decades. His distinguished career in politics and journalism, where he has quietly championed civility and served as a model for civil discourse, displays how we hope Johnnies might contribute to society. George currently writes editorials on education and other policy issues for Bloomberg Opinion. He was previously a member of the editorial boards of the New York Daily News and New York Post. He began his career in politics working for the Republican National Committee and as senior writer and special assistant for then-Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich. He was involved in election monitoring in Nigeria, reported on slavery in Sudan, and has participated in fact-finding missions to Israel and China. Over the course of his career, George has appeared on MSNBC, CNN, Fox News, and many other political affairs outlets, and has written for National Review, Reason, HuffPost, and a variety of other print and online publications.
Watch an interview with Robert George
For achievement in the field of human rights advocacy
John Sifton (A96) has devoted most of his career to human rights. After focusing on international humanitarian law in law school (NYU 2000), he worked for Refugees International in the Balkans, and then as a researcher and later advocate at Human Rights Watch. In an interview last year with the college about human rights work, he described human rights research and advocacy as “a relentless pursuit of the truth and a constant but often unrewarding effort to bring abusers to justice.” In addition to advocacy, Sifton is a writer, starting with a New York Times article published after 9/11 and leading up to his 2015 book, Violence All Around. Praised by The New Yorker, HuffPost, and other outlets, Violence All Around offers insights into human rights work as well as meditations on the nature of violence. Using his work on atrocities and war crimes as a springboard, Sifton explores the reluctance of historians and philosophers to analyze violence itself, not just as moral or immoral activity or as means to an end, but as a set of independent phenomena that condition human existence. According to Sifton, few observers, perpetrators, or victims are given an opportunity to consider these contexts. “I just don’t get the sense that a lot of the people who work in human rights think about that.”
Watch an interview with John Sifton
For achievement in the field of evolutionary biology and bioinformatics
Will Fischer, PhD, (SF86) is a scientist who works at the interface of viral evolution, vaccine development, and pandemic prevention. His work has contributed to mitigation efforts against HIV, filovirus diseases (Ebola and Marburg), Hepatitis C, Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease, and COVID-19. He played a vital role in the development of the mosaic vaccine design concept, which enables construction of vaccines for previously intractable pathogens. Since 2005, his work at the Los Alamos National Laboratory has been focused primarily on HIV. In 2020, he turned his attention to tracking the molecular evolution of SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic. His recent work has significantly contributed to a better understanding of SARS-CoV-2 variants, and ways to apply this understanding to ensure continuing success with vaccines and antibody therapeutics. Fischer’s deep biological knowledge, computational skills, and ability to design visual presentations of complex data—a skill he began to develop at the chalkboard in the St. John’s classroom—have significantly contributed to vaccine design strategies and have helped save lives around the globe. He is a well-rounded, deep-thinking scientist, and his insights have benefited many issues relating to public health.
Watch an interview with William Fischer
For achievement in the field of arts and literature
Natalie Goldberg (SFGI74) is the author of 15 books (and counting), including Writing Down the Bones, which has sold more than one million copies, has been translated into 19 languages, and revolutionized the way we practice writing in this country. Her most recent book, Three Simple Lines: A Writer’s Pilgrimage into the Heart and Homeland of Haiku, has garnered wide praise—and includes a shout-out to the Santa Fe college bookstore. Her other books include the novel Banana Rose, memoir Long Quiet Highway, and a collection of essays, The Great Spring. For more than 40 years, Goldberg has practiced Zen Buddhism and taught seminars in writing as a practice. People from around the world attend her life-changing workshops, and she has earned a reputation as a great teacher. The Oprah Winfrey Show sent a film crew to spend the day with Goldberg for a segment on spirituality that covered her writing, teaching, painting, and walking meditation. She has been a speaker at commencement and other college events, including an event in 2018 where she reflected on the value St. John’s College has had in her career as an author, noting that, “[at St. John’s] you meet the mind of the author, which is really how you learn to write. The books you love, you study the mind of the authors, they’re your teachers. So, me and Socrates and me and Aristotle, we’re good friends … And that’s what you need in order to write.”
Watch an interview with Natalie Goldberg
A distinguished leader and innovator in the field of beauty, cosmetic, and fragrance advertising, Alice Ericsson is well known for creating one of the world’s most recognized taglines: “Easy, Breezy, Beautiful, Covergirl.”
This campaign introduced a diverse group of inspiring brand ambassadors, including Queen Latifah, Salt-N-Pepa, Ellen DeGeneres as well as the first Coverboy, James Charles–an effort that, literally, changed the face the beauty industry forever. She has also helped build brands for L’Oréal, Revlon, Shiseido, and others, and has focused on mentoring women in advertising.
Currently, Ericsson works as a creative freelancer–strategizing and writing for clients such as Bobbi Brown, Hermès, MAC, and GrowNYC, among others. In addition to her professional pursuits, she is an active philanthropist with special regard for St. John’s College. A faithful financial supporter of the college, Ericsson’s contributions also include her longtime volunteer service for the institution–especially her role as a member of the Board of Directors for the Touchstones Discussion Project over the past 10 years.
Upon graduating from St. John’s College Graduate Institute in 2000, Mark Sanfilippo began a career as a screenwriter, where he even channeled his knowledge of western canon into some of his scripts. Little did he know then, that eight years later he would end up the producer of fine, artisan charcuterie recognized by Forbes magazine as the “Best Salami in the Country.” It was an advertisement offering employment at Pizzeria Mozza that set this trajectory in motion.
Despite his lack of culinary experience, Sanfilippo, while on hold for a writing project, applied to the restaurant and soon found himself in the job of food preparation, including curing meats. Doing so ignited his passion for the delicacy of charcuterie, which first took form as a hobby in a closet of his Los Angeles apartment to eventually a full-on business and 8,000-square-foot production facility in St. Louis.
Opened in 2008, Sanfilippo’s artisan salumeria aptly named Salume Beddu, which translates to “beautiful” in Sicilian dialect, specializes in Italian and European-style cured meats. Sanfilippo asserts the acclaim Salume Beddu has garnered from Forbes and others is due to an adherence to traditional techniques, a use of only the best ingredients, and an intellectual approach (likely instilled from his time at St. John’s) he takes to not just the curing process, but to every step of production–from farm to final product. Today, Salume Beddu distributes nationwide, and has become a fixture in award-winning kitchens as well as family gatherings, alike.
Working at the university level since 1987, Judith Abrams, PhD, is professor of oncology at Wayne State University School of Medicine and director of the biostatistics core at the Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit.
In her academic work at Wayne State, Abrams collaborates with cancer investigators, applying biostatistical methods in cancer research projects. Her contributions in the areas of experimental design and statistical analysis have resulted in publications in the field of oncology, especially in cancer clinical trials and observational studies. She is a four-time winner of the Wayne State University School of Medicine College Teaching Award, most recently received in 2017. In her more than 20 years with the Karmanos Cancer Institute, Abrams has been important to the design of cancer research studies. Building on her readings in philosophy of science at St. John’s College, she ensures that scientific questions are framed so they can be answered precisely and efficiently, and that analytical conclusions are accurate and valid.
Abrams embodies the spirit of inquiry that is so integral to the college’s Program. In addition to her bachelor’s degree from St. Johns, she holds a doctorate degree in biostatistics from the University of Michigan and two master’s degrees–one in computer science from New York University and another in biometry from the University of Vermont.
With more than 40 years’ experience in the field of education–first as a Maryland social studies and English teacher, and now as superintendent of the Caesar Rodney School District in Delaware–Kevin R. Fitzgerald, EdD, has dedicated his career to equipping students with the skills needed to succeed in a rapidly evolving world.
A leader in classroom technology integration, Fitzgerald has helped his district become a model for equitable instruction by offering multi-level learning modules to support students throughout the various stages of their intellectual development. For his efforts in creating learning environments where both students and teachers alike can thrive, Fitzgerald received the award for Superintendent of the Year in 2018 by the National Association of School Superintendents.
Today, Fitzgerald’s work continues as he pioneers the implementation of immersive language programs across his district, with Caesar Rodney students having access to the most language programs throughout the state of Delaware. Fitzgerald’s emphasis on language is rooted in his strong belief that the study of classic literature is what best prepares students for the future. This understanding, which demonstrates both a diversity of interpretations and shared commonalities, he owes to his studies as a graduate student of St. John’s College.