During the 2016 Charter Day celebrations, the Hobart College Alumni Association presented its highest honor, the Medal of Excellence, to Eric Cohler ’81, president of Eric Cohler Design and an adjunct professor of art and architecture at HWS.
“Through your combination of contributions to design, the arts, and the communities you serve, and the future whom you teach, you have truly led a life of consequence,” said President of the Alumni Association Jeremy T. Cushman ’96, who presented Cohler with the award. “Your contributions to the community and to our Colleges are nothing short of extraordinary and the Alumni Association is proud to have you among our most honorable Statesmen.”
The Hobart Medal of Excellence is awarded to an alumnus who, by reason of outstanding accomplishments in his particular business, profession or community service, has brought honor and distinction to his alma mater. Charter Day is held each spring to commemorate the granting of Hobart’s charter by the State of New York on April 10, 1822. Awards are given to Hobart students in recognition of their academic achievements, community service and leadership, and new members of the Orange Key, Chimera and Druid societies are honored.
Also serving as the Charter Day keynote speaker, Cohler is one of the country’s leading interior designers and has been named to the top 10 designer list in the U.S. by Elle Decor. The International Foodservice Distributors Association awarded Cohler its Circle of Excellence Award and Traditional Home and Decoration & Design Building named him Designer of the Year. He was included in House Beautiful‘s “Top 100” designers issue, and has had his design and fabric selected by President Barack and Mrs. Michelle Obama for the White House dining room. He was named as an Ambassador of Arts and Spirituality to the United Nations and served as the keynote speaker of the G 20 in Seoul, South Korea.
In his address, Cohler discussed “connectivity,” which he called an “increasingly important value of a liberal arts education in a digital world.” He stressed the importance of the liberal arts, and also shared his personal story of how the Colleges inspired and prepared him to pursue a career in art and design.
“Hobart saved my life,” Cohler said. “Because without my experience here in the art department with the amazing faculty that the school has in every department, enculturating me, nurturing me, and allowing me to ‘be me’ and not living in a box, I had that to fall back on, so I decided to leave law school.”
Cohler earned his bachelor’s degree in English and art with a concentration in history from Hobart, where he was a member of Kappa Alpha. He later earned a master’s degree in historic preservation from Columbia University School of Architecture and a certificate in design from Harvard Graduate School of Design.
Cohler worked with Ketchum Communications and Saatchi and Saatchi, two of the world’s largest public relations and communications agencies, before establishing Eric Cohler Designs in 1991. Based in New York City, Cohler works closely with clients internationally to design and develop the spaces of their dreams.
At HWS, he serves as an adjunct professor and supports the Eric Cohler Internship and Travel Award, which he established to empower students interested in design and/or the arts through internship and study abroad experiences. “One of the greatest pleasures of my life is teaching a series of art and design courses at the Colleges,” Cohler said.
At the Charter Day celebration, Student Trustee Maxwell J. Gorton ’16 served as the student speaker. He is an architectural studies major and political science minor, and a member of the constitutional committee and the a cappella group, the Hobartones. In his address, Gorton spoke about the “spirit of Hobart,” telling his classmates that the “spirit of Hobart is not so much about what you say, rather it’s how you feel.”
Charter Day began at 4:15 p.m. on Friday, April 15, at the flagpole on South Main Street.