While still in Peru on her Study-Service Term (SST), junior public relations and Spanish major Achieng Agutu received an email from Duane Stoltzfus, professor of communications, requesting her to reserve a Saturday in December for a trip to Indianapolis. She had won a Hoosiers State Press Association Award for her opinion piece, “Reflections on Living in a White World”.This prestigious award accepts pieces from five journalistic categories: news, sports, opinion, feature and photography. Stoltzfus, in addition to being a communication professor, doubles as an advisor to the school newspaper, the Record, and is responsible for picking these pieces.
“The big schools tend to dominate these awards, so it’s a great tribute to Achieng that she was among the winners,” Stoltzfus said. “She is one of the few students from GC to have received a Hoosiers State Press Association Award in recent years.”
When Agutu received Stoltzfus’ email, she thought her less-than-dependable Wi-Fi had simply caused an old email to resend. However, on closer inspection, she found it had been sent a mere hour before!
“It was really exciting, a joy to see. SST was really challenging, so to see this and to see that I was coming back to something exciting was amazing,” Agutu said.
Pat Lehman, also a professor of communications, has known Achieng since her very first days at Goshen College in the Identity, Culture and Community course required of all first years and subsequently instructed her in a Public Relations course. When she heard about Agutu’s award she was “ecstatic.”
“Achieng has so many rich gifts; she’s a superb speaker and she is also a very strong writer,” Lehman continued. “I see her as a student who completely embodies both the skills needed in public relations as well as our core values. She is truly a global citizen,” Stoltzfus.
“As a kid, my dad always used to make us write and for a long time I saw it as a punishment and I really hated it,” said Agutu. “There was a point when I found that I didn’t have anyone to talk to, so I went back to the thing I hated. Writing…is something that has been a part of me for a long time.”
Agutu’s purpose in writing this particular award-winning piece came from her frustration with American culture. “Having left my own country to come here to sort of live this American Dream, I was really frustrated with what I had found,” she said. And so, she wrote.
“I didn’t know my writing would ever be something that could be awarded,” Agutu said. “For a long time I’ve been writing stories about myself, about people, about social justice issues and finally there was someone out there who…was touched enough to say, ‘This is an award winning piece.’”
Stoltzfus, profess of peace, justice and conflict studies who has taught Agutu in approximately half a dozen classes, said, “Keen observers of life like Achieng don’t write to receive awards – my guess is she writes because she has ideas that she needs to express. But it’s awfully nice at the end of the day to be able to share that work with a larger audience and to receive plaudits for a job well done.”
Agutu’s parents in Kenya are extremely proud as well, though at first they did not quite understand the enormity of Agutu’s achievement.
“They read more about it and found that I went to an awards ceremony to win this,” said Agutu. “So I got a photocopy of [the certificate] and took it home. I thought they would just stash it somewhere, but the next couple days the pictures on the wall were reshuffled and the certificate was in the center. Anytime someone came in, they would show them.”
Stoltzfus, reflecting on the story, said, “I love the thought of that – a thread that connects work done in the Record in Goshen with a family celebrating that work in their home in Kenya.”