During Commencement 2011 ceremonies, Hobart and William Smith Colleges will honor two special educators for the role they played in the lives of a Hobart and a William Smith student who will graduate on Sunday, May 15. Hobart senior Walter Cruz will recognize former P.S. 70 second grade teacher Rita Fields and William Smith senior Amanda Ward will honor her mentor Tony Williams with the Touching the Future Award.
The Touching the Future Award is given annually to celebrate and honor the many early childhood educators – those with whom Hobart and William Smith students interacted in elementary, middle and high school — who have led graduates to crossing the stage for Commencement.
To recognize the educator who had the most significant impact on touching the future of a Hobart student, Cruz nominated Fields for the award, crediting her with helping him create the foundation for his educational success and lighting the spark that led him to accomplish his goals.
Cruz is an architectural studies major and studio arts minor. He is a member of Chimera and Orange Key at Hobart and has been named to the Dean’s List. He has also been recognized with the Dean’s Citizenship Award.
“Mrs. Fields’ passion for bettering the lives of each student that steps into her classroom is what lit the spark within me to accomplish goals in my life. Her enthusiasm created a snowball effect in my life,” he says.
Recently retired as an assistant principal, Fields is a published author. Her works include “Erica Gets a Job in A Pet Shop,” a children’s book that focuses on careers and how to prepare for one, and “Rita’s Plays for Children: Productions For Black History Month and Beyond.” The plays were written by Fields and performed by her students. In addition to author visits in the New York City area, she presents careers and career preparation to students in city classrooms.
Williams, coordinator of student support services for an entrepreneurship program for high school students through Medaille College, was nominated by Ward, who met him when he led an anti-bullying workshop at an Erie 1 BOCES Leadership Camp and at Ward’s high school. After the workshop, Williams continued to mentor Ward in numerous school violence prevention and intervention programs, as well as student advocacy initiatives.
Ward, a double major in political science and international social justice, has been an advocate for political awareness and participation among students, as well as worked with Invisible Children. Last year, she was named a finalist for the prestigious Harry S. Truman Scholarship; she is a member of the 2011 class of inductees into The Phi Beta Kappa, Zeta of New York Chapter. She will go to Memphis for two years with Teach for America after graduation.
Of Williams’ role in her life, she explains, “He allowed me to see that everyone, even a high school student, had something they could share with the world and that I had the power to make a difference. I have always hoped that I can help a child the way that Mr. Williams has helped me.”
Williams is currently also a member of the Erie County Youth Bureau’s Board of Directors.
The Touching the Future Award was established by the Hobart and William Smith Colleges Board of Trustees in 2004. It derives its name from the famous words of Christa McAuliffe, the first teacher selected to participate in the space shuttle program who died in the explosion of Challenger. McAuliffe expressed the sentiments of many teachers when she said, “I touch the future, I teach.”