By XUEYING CHEN ’16 and EVELYN TAYLOR-MCGREGOR ’16
News Editor and Assistant News Editor
The College honored Tracy Orleans ’70 and Eva Sommaripa ’63 last Thursday evening with the 2014 Diana Chapman Walsh Alumnae Achievement Award in Alumnae Hall. The award, presented as a golden oak leaf pin, recognizes the recipient for excellence and commendation in her field.
The auditorium lights dimmed as the ceremony opened with the Blue Notes singing “Wanting Memories,” candles in hand, as they headed toward the stage. The Alumnae Association’s board of directors followed and took their seats onstage.
President of the College H. Kim Bottomly greeted the audience in her welcoming address. She mentioned that the Alumnae Achievement Award has gone to alumnae in many fields, including business, the arts, journalism, law, social activism and community service.
“Proving that a Wellesley woman’s place in the world is wherever she chooses it to be and that the only typical path for a Wellesley alumna is the one she forges with the courage and passion of her own conviction,” Bottomly said.
Bottomly along with Karen Williamson ’69, president of the alumnae association, first called Orleans to the stage to accept the award.
Orleans is a behavioral health scientist who worked to decrease the widespread habit of smoking by changing public policy and attitudes on smoking.
When she first stepped on campus, Orleans intended to become a doctor because her family had a history of tuberculosis. Her mother tested positive for tuberculosis on a skin test and was asked to leave the University of Chicago; she did not finish her degree. Because of this, her mother was determined to send Orleans to college.
Within the first year, Orleans managed to complete half of the pre-med requirement, but her interests veered toward psychology when she took her first psychology class second semester.
“I switched to psychology as my major and never looked back,” Orleans said. “And this first act of reinvention, which took courage, paved the way for the many others that would follow in my career.”
After she graduated in 1970, she studied clinical psychology and interned at the Duke Medical Center. At that time, nearly 36 percent of women were smokers, and even hospital vending machines sold cigarettes by the pack.
At Duke, Orleans became involved in the emerging practice of using human behavior to help improve health and wellbeing. By 1976, treatments for smoking addiction were still nonexistent and Orleans, who was a smoker herself, committed to quit. Over the next 20 years, she worked on the campaigns that would slowly bring down the percentage of smokers from 54 percent in 1964 to 18 percent today.
At the end of her acceptance speech, Orleans revealed that her mother finally attained her college degree two years after Orleans graduated from Wellesley. She dedicated her award to her mother.
“It has been said that behind all your stories is your mother’s story, because that is where your story begins. This could not be truer for me,” Orleans said.
Bottomly and Williamson then welcomed Sommaripa on stage to receive her golden oak leaf pin. Sommaripa began her own organic farm more than 40 years ago, long before the trend of consuming locally-grown organic produce emerged. She provides local New England chefs with fresh herbs and produce straight from her garden. Throughout her speech, Sommaripa quoted poetry from Chaucer and Dickinson to reference planting and harvesting produce.
During her undergraduate years, Sommaripa did not have any notion about what she wanted to do for a career, but she took plenty of art and English classes. Sommaripa eventually majored in art history and took her first job working for a professor at Harvard. Later, she found herself living, making pottery and gardening on a plot of land in western Massachusetts. Her farm started as a small family farm, but she was soon selling extra produce to local chefs, and her business grew from there.
Sommaripa stated that Wellesley taught her to question everything that came her way and contributed to her success in her unique field.
“You don’t have to accept the way things are, you can change them. And maybe, find that some of the way things are is really good, but you can evaluate what’s given to you, what’s expected of you,” Sommaripa said.
Sommaripa learned to live off the land in her early days in western Massachusetts on the plot that would become her organic farm. She is pleased that Wellesley has taken on sustainability projects such as the new composting program, the bike share and even recycling initiatives, since her time at Wellesley.
“I am just thrilled that [Wellesley] finally made the leap to taking on sustainability,” Sommaripa said.
The ceremony closed with a rendition of “Alma Mater” sung by the Wellesley College Choir. After the ceremony, the award recipients, their guests, faculty, alumnae and students sat down to enjoy a banquet that also included turnips, berries, radishes and herbs provided by Sommaripa’s garden.