Aaron Abai (MCB ‘22), Yoseph Boku (MCB ‘21), and Matt Spence (Neuro ‘22) are among the undergraduates honored with 2020 Student Leadership Awards. Organized by the Dean of Students Office (DSO), the annual Student Leadership Awards celebrate undergraduates’ contributions to student organizations and campus life.
Aaron Abai (MCB ‘22)
Abai’s Insignia Award, which is “awarded by the Harvard Foundation to a student whose efforts towards improving intercultural and race relations have had a significant positive impact on the quality of our common life at Harvard College,” shows appreciation for his role as Co-Chair of the Harvard Foundation’s Student Advisory Committee (SAC).
“I felt pretty lucky to receive my student leadership award,” Abai says. “I got an email from Sheehan Scarborough, the new Director of the Harvard Foundation, informing me that I was receiving this award. Funny enough, I also received some other piece of really good news at the same time, and so I decided to throw myself a one-man dance party in my room. During the party, though, I went a little too hard and ended up accidentally punching a wall. Luckily, the wall was okay, and my knuckles have since made a full recovery.”
The SAC is a large group of students, representing over 90 cultural and affinity groups at Harvard. “The SAC’s biggest impact is the distribution of $50K in funding to student groups, which my board and I, along with Sonia and Sheehan at the Harvard Foundation, are responsible for executing,” Abai explains.
As Co-Chair of the SAC, Abai helped revamp the organization’s monthly meetings such that faculty and staff could join the meetings and communicate with student leaders. The goal was to make the meetings more engaging and useful for student leaders in attendance, and, as a bonus, they were able to shift the meetings away from their tricky 8 AM time slot. The new meeting format was a hit, Abai says.
“Along with the SAC, I think my involvement in other initiatives, like the College’s Symbols and Spaces Working Committee and as the Director of Finance of the Black Health Matters Conference also played a role in my generous recognition,” Abai adds.
“I remember coming into Harvard I was a bit nervous because I had so many different things I cared about and I simply didn’t know how or if I could integrate all of them,” he says. “Even though I love pure biology, I’ve actually found the most fulfillment in my classes when discussing social issues in the context of the things being learned in my sciences classes.”
Yoseph Boku (MCB ‘21)
Spirit of Harvard College Award
Boku received the Spirit of Harvard College Award, which is “given to a sophomore or junior who has shown a commitment to the ideals articulated in the mission of Harvard College,” in recognition of his work as volunteer director of the Y2Y Harvard Square shelter.
“With my role as volunteer director of Y2Y Harvard Square, a shelter serving youth experiencing homelessness, I was able to engage undergraduate students in public service,” he says. “My job was to recruit, train, and lead Y2Y’s 150 weekly volunteers, most of whom are Harvard undergraduates.”
In the citation for the award, entryway proctor Eric Bersin noted, “Yoseph works tirelessly to connect his fellow students with opportunities to learn and grow, both as students and as humans, and to provide them with the transformative experience that is the mission statement of Harvard College. Yoseph’s passion and drive stand out from the crowd; to him, public service is not merely an extracurricular, but a core part of a fully-realized Harvard education.”
“What was particularly inspiring is the idea of mobilizing the youth in the fight to end homelessness in Cambridge,” Boku adds. “If you look at social movements of the past, consider the civil rights movement for example, it was led by youth. If we are going to solve problems around housing access, an essential step will be utilizing the student population in Cambridge and Boston.”
Due to the current crisis, Boku is at home in Virginia but he is still working to coordinate efforts at Y2Y. “While I am not at the shelter physically, I am working on projects to streamline recruitment and training of volunteers for future seasons of the shelter,” he says.
“I was ecstatic to receive the award!” he adds. “My celebratory options were limited due to social distancing guidelines but I baked fudge brownies to treat myself!”
Boku would like to thank his advisers Assistant Director of Undergraduate Studies in CPB and MCB Dominic Mao and Program Coordinator Irina Cashen. “They work so hard to create a caring community of students and faculty that is unparalleled in all of Harvard,” he says.
Matt Spence (Neuro ‘22)
Athlete of the Year: Intramural
Spence has been named Intramural Athlete of the Year Award. He plays every sport the intramural program offers, which often adds up to 15 games per month.
“The Intramural Athlete of the Year Award is given to the athlete that consistently displays good sportsmanship, enthusiasm, and helps to create an inclusive and fun atmosphere for the rest of the players in the sport,” he explains. Candidates for this award are nominated by other students who play in intramurals, and the final decision is made by the House IM Council.
Participating in intramurals started as a way for Spence to continue the sports he had played in high school. “Coming to college, I realized that I wouldn’t have enough time to dedicate to making regular practice times and matches,” he says. “This is why I joined intramurals from freshman year because it still had the energy and friendships that I loved about being on a sports team without the hourly commitments.”
“I felt like all my years of taking intramural ridiculously seriously had finally paid off,” Spence says. “I always put 100% effort into IMs, and I love the friendly competitive nature of the games, which is why I tried to make it out to as many games as I could. I found out by email, and immediately told my parents since I was home already. They then proceeded to call all of my relatives and give them the good news.”
Unfortunately, playing intramural sports isn’t possible over Zoom, but Spence is keeping in touch with some of his friends from IM.
“For all those younger students out there, try to find whatever makes you feel passionate and stick with it no matter what other people may think of it,” Spence says. “I can’t count the amount of times someone has told me I take IMs too seriously, but it was something I seriously enjoyed.”