William Smith alumna Wendy Puriefoy ’71 recently returned to her alma mater as part of the President’s Forum. In her talk, Puriefoy spoke passionately about her work as the president of the Public Education Network and present issues in public education. President Mark D. Gearan took the opportunity to award Puriefoy with the President’s Medal for the accomplishments made throughout her career.
“Where others saw failure and stalemates you saw the reality of unrealized potential, said William Smith Dean Debra DeMeis P’06 as she presented Puriefoy with her medal, which is awarded on the basis of outstanding service and leadership.
“This has always been a place where young people are groomed and developed, Puriefoy told the crowd of students, faculty, staff and community members in the Geneva Room. “It was a part of the best years of my life, so I am very, very happy to be back here.
In her address, Puriefoy spoke about her experiences at Hobart and William Smith, crediting faculty members Professor of English Katie Cook and Professor of History Bob Huff for giving her the desire to make a difference in the world and shaping her into the person she is today. She recalled that as students, she and her classmates frequently went into the Geneva community to protest the Vietnam War, an experience that fed Puriefoy’s growing belief that one person can impact public policy, a concept she translated into her work in education.
“If a foreign power had come into this country and done what we did to public education, we would have said it was an act of war, she said, describing her early work on forming organizations to support public education on behalf of disadvantaged children.
“Public Education Network looks at how our districts should build competency and capacity to educate all of our children, and to help communities know what good schools are, she said.
Puriefoy went on to explain that the Public Education Network helps set expectations for high-quality teaching and supports public officials who carry out these expectations. It also serves to educate teachers to be better advocates for high-quality education.
“In a nation where more money is spent to incarcerate children than educate them, this organization aims to shape a new school of thought, Puriefoy said.
After her speech, Puriefoy answered questions from the audience on issues ranging from teacher compensation to the ideal public school profile.
Emma Daley ’10, who is currently enrolled in the Colleges’ teacher certification program, was excited to see Puriefoy speak at the President’s Forum. “She’s president of an organization that has had a dramatic impact on educational reform, Daley said. “It’s an amazing opportunity to speak with a true expert in the field.
Puriefoy has been president of the Public Education Network since it was founded in 1991. In addition to her bachelor’s degree, she holds three master of arts degrees from Boston University in African American studies, American studies and American colonial history. She also has taught at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education regarding the role of non-government actors in public school reform.
As a student at William Smith, Puriefoy was the first elected Student Trustee. Since then she has also served two years on the HWS Board of Trustees.