The Goddard College Presidential Award for Activism recognizes alumni who have made significant contributions in the field of social justice and who embody the highest ideals and aspirations of Goddard College.

The Goddard Award for Excellence is given to individuals who have given exceptional service and who exemplify the values of the Goddard College Mission: to advance cultures of rigorous inquiry, collaboration, and lifelong learning, where individuals take imaginative and responsible action in the world.

The Doctor of Humane Letters, Honoris causa, is given to individuals who have distinguished themselves in areas related to the humanities and who have a strong connection to Goddard College.

Award Winners

2016 Presidential Award for Activism – Priscilla Backman

Priscilla Ruth Davis Backman, a 1943 graduate of Goddard’s Junior College and 1946 graduate of the BA program, was an anti-war activist and tax resister who also engaged in efforts to abolish the death penalty and in the anti-nuclear movement.

In 1965, she returned to Goddard to establish, organize, and direct the off-campus work term program. In the 1980s, Backman lived in New York City and devoted her time to volunteering at a homeless shelter, the Natural History Museum, the Botanical Gardens, and as a counselor at the Camp for the Blind in Rockland County. She then volunteered in the College archives for several years beginning in 1990.

Backman served her community selflessly, never looking for credit. She died on May 8, 2015.

Goddard College President Robert Kenny will posthumously present Priscilla Ruth Davis Backman with the Presidential Award for Activism during the Undergraduate Commencement Ceremony on Sunday, August 21, at 4:00 p.m. in the Haybarn Theatre on Goddard’s Plainfield campus. The Backman family, including Priscilla Backman’s son and granddaughter, will accept the award in her honor.

2015 Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters – Jonathan Katz

Jonathan Katz (BA RUP ’71) is a comedian, actor, and voice actor. He is best known for his role in the animated Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist, which originally aired on Comedy Central from 1995 to 2002, and starred Katz as a professional therapist whose patients were chiefly other comedians and actors. He received an Emmy award for his work on the show in 1995 for Outstanding Voice-Over Performance.

Katz attended Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont, with playwright David Mamet, with whom he remains close friends. Katz co-wrote “House of Games” with Mamet and had small roles in the Mamet-directed films Things Change, Homicide, The Spanish Prisoner and State and Main.

In 1996, Katz was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Working in Hollywood and trying to hide an illness became a challenge for Katz. Now he speaks publicly to help educate and support people with MS.

In the spring of 2012, Katz taught a theater class at Brandeis University in Short Form Comedy. In 2013, Katz was the chief architect of the Goddard College Storyphone, a project of Goddard’s 150th Anniversary, where he recorded and edited dozens of audio alumni stories.

The award ceremony for Jonathan Katz will be held on Sunday, September 6, 2015 during the MA in Psychology commencement. Learn more about Jonathan Katz at his website.

2015 Presidential Award for Activism – Dan Chodorkoff

Dan Chodorkoff is a two-time graduate of Goddard College, receiving his Bachelor of Arts from the Residential Undergraduate Program in 1971, and his Master of Arts from the Goddard Graduate Program in 1973. He went on to receive his Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology from the New School for Social Research.

He was a faculty member at Goddard College from 1972 to 2003, during which time he co-founded the Institute for Social Ecology (ISE), with social theorist Murray Bookchin. The ISE was a summer program that grew into the low-residency BA and MA Social Ecology degree programs, led by Chodorkoff.  In 2000, the ISE became an independent organization, and currently offers an MA degree program with Prescott College, as well as summer colloquia in Marshfield, Vt.  Its educational mission is to create “educational experiences that enhance people’s understanding of their relationship to the natural world and each other.”

Chodorkoff has lectured at over 100 colleges, universities and movement gatherings in North America, Latin America and Europe. He has published numerous articles in journals and anthologies, edited Harbinger, a Journal of Social Ecology, and authored two books, The Anthropology of Utopia (New Compass Press, 2014) and the novel Loisaida (Fomite Press, 2011). He also served for several years as faculty representative to the Goddard Board of Trustees.

A lifelong activist and educator, he has dedicated his life to exploring and promoting ecological approaches to food production, alternative technologies, urban design, challenging nuclear power, capitalism, global injustices, and unsustainable biotechnologies.

Dan received his Goddard College Presidential Award for Activism from Interim President Bob Kenny on March 29, 2015.

2015 Goddard Award for Excellence – Wilmer Brandt

Wilmer Brandt graduated with his Bachelor of Arts from the Goddard College Residential Undergraduate Program in 1955. He was born in Deodat, Penn., in 1920.

During World War II, he was a conscientious objector, and instead learned the skills of planting trees, fighting forest fires, drilling wells and building septic systems to combat typhoid in Florida. He became a member of a Georgia cooperative that founded the internationally esteemed children’s toy manufacturer, Community Playthings. Brandt came to Vermont in 1952 to attend the Putney Graduate School, and then attended and graduated from Goddard College in the summer of 1955.

“I got introduced to so many different cultures and people at Goddard,” said Brandt. “Goddard…really helped me to explore and discover my place in the world.” Brandt has farmed and forested land in Vermont for sixty years.

Wilmer is an activist, a farmer, a forester, an advocate for social and economic justice, a pacifist, a Quaker, a dowser and a supporter of many causes. Wilmer has dedicated his life to serving his community and has inspired and encouraged an entire generation of Vermont peace activists.

Wilmer received the Goddard Award for Excellence from Interim President Bob Kenny on March 29, 2015.

2013 Presidential Award for Activism – Dr. Tommie Smith

Tommie Smith (MA ’74) began life quietly, born to Richard and Dora Smith on June 6, 1944 in Clarksville, Texas, the seventh of 12 children.  Tommie Smith survived a life-threatening bout of pneumonia as an infant which allowed him to carry out the work that God intended for him. Today, his historic achievements make him a nationally and internationally distinguished figure in African American history.He is the only man in the history of track and field to hold eleven world records simultaneously.

During the historical 19th Olympiad in Mexico City in the summer of 1968, Smith broke the world and Olympic record with a time of 19.83 seconds and became the 200-meter Olympic champion.  As the Star Spangled Banner played in the wind at the Mexico City Summer Olympic Games, Tommie Smith and John Carlos stood on the victory podium, draped with their Olympic medals, each raised a clinched fist covered in a black leather glove in a historic stand for black power, liberation, and solidarity.

This courageous, unexpected worldwide event propelled Smith into the spotlight as a human rights spokesman, activist, and symbol of African American pride at home and abroad.  Cheered by some, jeered by others, and ignored by many more, Smith made a commitment to dedicate his life, even at great personal risk to champion the cause of oppressed people. The story of the “silent gesture” is captured for all time in the 1999 HBO TV documentary: “Fists of Freedom” and in 2008 Documentary “Return to Mexico City” by ESPN.

Smith’s courageous leadership, talent, and activism have earned him well-deserved acclaim and awards.

Since the games of the 19th Olympiad, Smith has enjoyed a distinguished career as a coach, educator and activist. Tommie started his college teaching and coaching career at Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio serving for 6 years and in 1978 re-located to Santa Monica, California. He served as a faculty member at Santa Monica College, Santa Monica California for 27 years, teaching and coaching and serving on academic committees.  Smith has dedicated a total of 37 years to educating and teaching our children. In June 2005 he retired and move to Georgia. He continues to travel nationwide giving of himself to all.

The Tommie Smith Youth Initiatives partner with Delo 2K Enterprise is in its 10th year in the Northern California and 5th year in Washington DC. Dr. Smith continues the struggle by helping bring awareness to our youth about Health and Wellness. Smith completed his Autobiography titled Silent Gesture published by Temple University Press in January 2007, which was nominated for an NAACP Image Award in the literary category Autobiography and Biography, The Peace Abby Courage of Conscience Award April 2008, and The ESPYS Arthur Ashe Courage Award July 2008. The Trumpet Awards in 2007.

Smith received his Bachelor of Arts degree from San Jose State University in Social Science with double minors in Military Science and Physical Education. In 1974 he received his MA in Sociology from Goddard College, Cambridge, Massachusetts. As a college student, Smith tied or broke a total of 13 world records in track. However, realizing the importance of education, Tommie went on to obtain a Master’s Degree in Sociology. Smith was awarded an Honorary Doctorate Degree (LHD) from his alma mater, San Jose State University in May 2005.

On October 6, 2013, Goddard College bestowed the third annual Presidential Award for Activism to Olympic gold medalist, educator and activist Dr. Tommie Smith.

2013 Goddard Award for Excellence – Archie Shepp

Saxophone player, composer, pianist, singer, politically committed poet, playwright, Archie Shepp is a legend. Shepp’s connection with Goddard began in 1955 when he enrolled as a pre-law major on a full scholarship. Soon after, Archie began to write plays and became a theater major. He graduated from Goddard with a Bachelor of Arts in 1959.

In 1965 he released his first album. Since then, he has released more than 60 albums and played on stages all over the world. He was a leader in the 1960s black jazz avant-garde, or free jazz, movement, and has played with the likes of John Coltrane and other jazz greats.

Shepp was also an educator for more than 30 years, heading the Black Studies Program at the State University of New York in Buffalo from 1969 to 1971, and teaching at the University of Massachusetts from 1971 to 2001.

Archie Shepp was born in 1937 in Fort Lauderdale in Florida.

He grew up in Philadelphia, studied piano and saxophone and attended high school in Germantown; he went to college, became involved with theatre, met writers and poets, among them, Leroy Jones and wrote: “The Communist,” an allegorical play, later renamed “Junebug,” about the situation of black Americans.

Shepp started his own independent label, Archieball, in order to maintain full artistic freedom, to support independent jazz creation and, most importantly, to promote young jazz talents.

Archie Shepp (BA RUP ’59) received the Goddard College Award for Excellence and performed live at Goddard College’s Haybarn Theatre in Plainfield on January 19, 2013.

2013 Goddard Award for Excellence – Clo Pitkin

Clo Pitkin graduated from Goddard in 1953. After her graduation, she was hired by Tim Pitkin to help survey the Upper Winooski Valley as part of a Title I grant. She and Ellen Pitkin organized and helped run the Current Educational Issues Conferences at Goddard throughout the 1960s. In 1969 Clo graduated from UVM with her MEd in Counseling. Clo was the Director/Advisor of Commuting Adult Program at Goddard College, which was a precursor to the Adult Degree Program, from 1968-1969 and was on the Goddard education faculty for both the RUP and ADP programs.

In 1970, Clo went to work with Peter Smith, the Community College of Vermont’s first president, to help establish that institution.  While there she helped design and launch the advising and degree programs, and worked with low-income people to help them continue their educations.

After that she returned to Goddard as the Associate Director of Admissions and a faculty member in the ADP and RUP programs. In 1987 she founded Woman Centered, an organization which offered support for women of all ages. From 1993-2001 she was the Director of Community Services at Central Vermont Community Action. Clo was also a co-founder of the Vermont Peace Academy. She returned to Goddard following the closure of the residential program as a member of the Renaissance Committee and was on the Board of Trustees from 2003 to 2013.

Clo lives in Marshfield, in the house purchased by Orasmus Pitkin in 1850 and is very active in the Goddard community.

In recognition of her lifetime of service to Goddard College Clo received the Goddard Award for Excellence on October 19, 2013, during Goddard College’s 150th Anniversary Celebration and Alumni Weekend.

2013 Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters – Thom Hartmann

Thom Hartmann is an award-winning author and internationally recognized progressive radio talk show host of The Thom Hartmann Program.

The Thom Hartmann Program is live daily from 3-6 PM ET on radio and TV stations from coast to coast, syndicated by Dial-Global to commercial stations, Pacifica to non-profit stations, and Free Speech TV on Dish Network, DirectTV, and cable systems, as well as on American Forces Radio and on XM and Sirius Satellite radio.

He is also a four-time Project Censored-award-winning, New York Times best-selling author. His books range in subjects from ADD, The American Dream, and the JFK assassination, to corporate personhood and even spirituality.

His national daily progressive radio talk show is now in its ninth year on the air. More people listen daily to the Thom Hartmann Program than any other progressive talk show in the nation. Talkers Magazine names Thom Hartmann the 8th most important talk show host in America, and the #1 most important progressive host, for three consecutive years in their “Heavy Hundred” ranking.

Thom received the Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Goddard College President Dr. Barbara Vacarr on September 22, 2013.

Important Announcement

The Board of Directors for Goddard College have made the difficult decision to close the college at the end of the 2024 Spring term.  


Current Goddard students will have the opportunity to complete their degrees at the same tuition rate through a teach-out with like-minded institution, Prescott College. Updates and scholarship funds will be available in the coming weeks and months. Information will be posted to

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