After a two-year hiatus because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the American Academy of Achievement inducted three new members at an intimate dinner and awards ceremony held at the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles, California, in mid-December of 2021. The awards ceremony was hosted by Academy Awards Council member and Nobel Prize laureate Dr. Frances Arnold and Catherine B. Reynolds, the Founder and Chairman of the Catherine B. Reynolds Foundation.
Dr. Arnold introduced the honorees and summarized their accomplishments. The Golden Plate Award was presented to Dr. Andrea M. Ghez for “unlocking the secrets of the universe” by locating a massive black hole in the heart of the Milky Way, which earned her the Nobel Prize in Physics, Dr. Ardem Patapoutian for “identifying the previously unknown class of proteins in living cells that register pressure” – the sense of touch – which was recognized by the 2021 Nobel Prize in Medicine, and Dr. Katalin Karikó for developing messenger RNA vaccines that prevented more than 10 million hospitalizations and saved over 2 million lives during the recent Covid-19 pandemic, and earned her the 2021 Lasker Award for medical research, the highest honor in American medicine.
The three honorees responded at the awards presentation ceremony by enthralling the Academy members on the long journey and personal perseverance that led to their breakthrough discoveries after decades of doubt and resistance within the scientific community.
The 2022 Achievement Summit was held in Washington, D.C., and began with a dinner and presentation in the historic Members Room at the Library of Congress on September 9, hosted by Academy member and Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden and Catherine B. Reynolds. Carla Hayden welcomed the Academy members and guests, including the new class of White House Fellows, to the dinner. The ceremony’s highlight was a multimedia presentation on creativity by Academy member Jimmy Page, the legendary guitarist and founder of Led Zeppelin and poet and performer Scarlett Sabet, on their spoken word album Catalyst.
The album was written and performed by Scarlett Sabet and produced by Jimmy Page to “emphasize the power of the spoken word in the context of poetry and present her work in a radical form.” A question-and-answer session followed the dinner. Among the Academy members in attendance were Dr. Francis Collins, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Martine Rothblatt, and Steve Case.
The Summit program continued with a dinner in honor of Jimmy Page at The Inn at Little Washington, prepared by famed chef and proprietor Patrick O’Connell. The Inn, which exemplifies culinary excellence, is situated in the Virginia countryside in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains near Shenandoah National Park.
The Banquet of the Golden Plate ceremonies were held in the historic Luce Library of The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. The Academy members enjoyed a reception in The Great Hall, the location of President Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural ball on March 6, 1865. The ball took place as Lincoln’s second term began, with the Civil War in its final stages, and only six weeks before Lincoln was assassinated at nearby Ford’s Theatre.
Catherine B. Reynolds, the Summit Host, opened the Banquet ceremonies, invoking the memory of President Lincoln, perhaps the greatest President in our nation’s history. Catherine Reynolds concluded her welcoming remarks by stating, “Tonight, in honor of President Lincoln’s example, his vision, his hope, his determination, we celebrate the power of individual achievement.”
The Academy guests were serenaded by the Washington Chamber Orchestra as they watched a video presentation summarizing the extraordinary achievers who have participated in the Banquet of the Golden Plate ceremonies over the past six decades.
The Banquet Awards presentations were moderated by broadcast journalists Wolf Blitzer of CNN and Bret Baier of Fox News.
The first Academy inductees of the evening were the husband-and-wife economists from MIT, Dr. Abhijit Banerjee, and Dr. Esther Duflo, who earned the Nobel Prize for their approaches to alleviating global poverty. Their Golden Plate was presented by Academy members Anthony Romero and Dr. Martin Rothblatt.
Justice Anthony Kennedy and Justice Brett Kavanaugh presented the Golden Plate Award to Justice Amy Coney Barrett. Her Academy introduction recognized “her sharp intellect and deep faith” as the fifth woman to serve on the United States Supreme Court.
Pulitzer Prize recipient and Yale Professor of History David Blight was presented with his Golden Plate Award by Academy members and Pulitzer Prize historians A. Scott Berg and Rick Atkinson. Professor Blight was lauded by the Academy for “devoting himself to the study of the abiding questions of our national memory – slavery, abolition, Civil War, civil rights and Reconstruction.”
The fourth Golden Plate Award was presented to General Charles Q. Brown, USAF, the first African American to be Air Force Chief of Staff and to lead any branch of the U.S. Armed Forces. The induction into the Academy was made by General Joseph W. Ralston, USAF, former Supreme Allied Commander Europe.
Congressman Jim Clyburn received the next Golden Plate Award in tribute to his 15 terms in the U.S. Congress as a beacon for justice, opportunity, and public service, most recently as The House Majority Whip. The Golden Plate was presented by Awards Council members and legendary defense counsels Brendan V. Sullivan and Theodore Olson.
The evening’s sixth Golden Plate was presented to eleven-time Olympic medalist Allyson Felix in recognition of her extraordinary career on and off the track. As the most decorated American track and field athlete in Olympic history. Allyson Felix “lends her voice to speak out on the Black mortality rate and the inequalities facing Black pregnant women.” The Golden Plate was presented by Awards Council member Dr. Benjamin Carson.
Dr. William G. Kaelin, Jr. was recognized by the Academy for research on “how cells serve and adapt to oxygen availability which may lead to new treatments for diseases like cancer.” Dr. Kaelin, a Harvard Professor of Medicine, has earned many honors, including the Nobel Prize in Medicine. His award was presented by Nobel laureate Dr. Peter Agre and Dr. Steven A. Rosenberg, Chief of Surgery at the National Cancer Institute.
Entrepreneur and sportsman E. Stanley Kroenke was presented the Golden Plate Award as a successful real estate developer and owner of the Los Angeles Rams, 2022 Super Bowl Champions, and the Colorado Avalanche, 2022 Stanley Cup hockey champions. Stan Kroenke’s award was bestowed by Awards Council member Jimmy Page, founder of Led Zeppelin.
The ninth award of the evening was extended to the internationally acclaimed singer and songwriter Gordon Lightfoot. You can hear the rhythm and the longing in his lyrics. The award was presented by Dr. Andrew Weil. Gordon Lightfoot went on to perform his iconic song “If You Could Read My Mind” for the Academy guests, accompanied by the Washington Chamber Orchestra.
U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell was presented the Golden Plate Award as Kentucky’s longest-serving senator with a record seven terms and the Senate Republican Leader. The award was bestowed by Awards Council member and Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Cal Ripken, Jr.
Nobel Prize winner in Physics, Dr. Shuji Nakamura, earned his Golden Plate Award as “the inventor of the blue LED, the breakthrough that led to the power-efficient screens used in television, computer monitors and smartphones.” His award was presented by Academy member and former U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.
Awards Council members and Academy Patrons Jim Breyer and Lee Ainslie presented the twelfth Golden Plate of the evening to entrepreneur and philanthropist Terry Ragon.
Tracy K. Smith, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and two-time Poet Laureate of the United States, received her Golden Plate from Awards Council member Lynn Nottage, recipient of two Pulitzer Prizes for Drama.
Awards Council member Justice Anthony Kennedy returned to the stage for the presentation of the Golden Plate Award to Dr. Marc Tessier-Lavigne, President of Stanford University. His award citation read: “His mind and abilities are wide-ranging. From an eminent professor in the study of brain development and repair…to biotech executive overseeing 1,400 scientists…to the leader of one of the world’s most renowned universities, he is charged with the electricity of ideas and thoughts.”
The 15th award of the program was given to Hamdi Ulukaya, the founder and chairman of Chobani. The developer of America’s leading Greek yogurt, he popularized this style of yogurt in the United States. Also a champion of humanitarian efforts for refugees, his honor was presented by Awards Council member Nadia Murad, recipient of the Nobel Prize for Peace.
The next Golden Plate Award was presented to Dr. Drew Weissman, who persevered through years of setbacks – alongside Academy member Katalin Karikó – to pioneer messenger RNA technology, the “process that has revolutionized vaccine development and is the backbone of coronavirus vaccines.” This groundbreaking University of Pennsylvania researcher received his Golden Plate from Awards Council members Robert Langer and Prime Minister Ehud Barak.
The final award of the Banquet of the Golden Plate ceremonies was bestowed upon the Co-Chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, Dr. Maria Zuber. The head of Research at MIT, she was presented with the Golden Plate by Awards Council member Dr. Francis Collins, the former Director of the National Institutes of Health.
At the close of this year’s Banquet of the Golden Plate ceremonies, Academy members were treated by a performance by Awards Council member and internationally acclaimed mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves.
She sang the “Habanera” from Georges Bizet’s opera Carmen, accompanied by the Washington Chamber Orchestra and The Festival Chorus. Denyce Graves concluded the program with a stirring rendition of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” in tribute to the legacy of President Abraham Lincoln.
Justice Anthony Kennedy concluded the evening with remarks on the importance of democracy and civil discourse.