Each year, the Clark Alumni Council Awards Committee honors alumni for their service to Clark and society at large.
The Awards Committee this year had difficult decisions to make among many excellent nominations submitted by Clark alumni, staff, and faculty. The committee chose a slate of awardees who, though their accomplishments and impacts vary, display a common bond — a passion to help others — that’s deeply rooted in their Clark education.
This year’s distinguished honorees will be presented with their awards at Reunion Weekend. They are:
The Distinguished Service Award, the highest honor bestowed by Clark’s Alumni Council, recognizes and celebrates a graduate who has demonstrated exemplary leadership and volunteerism for Clark over the course of several decades. This year’s winner is Anne McKinnon ’83.
McKinnon’s consistent and sustained alumni volunteerism has provided countless benefits for the University. As a former member of the Alumni Council, she served on multiple committees, chaired the Awards Committee, and played an active role in the Council’s Diversity and Inclusion Task Force (2018–2020). For her classmates, she has served on her 20th, 25th, 30th, 35th and, currently, 40th Reunion committees. McKinnon also served as an admissions volunteer and interviewed prospective Clark students for well over a decade. The variety and depth of her volunteerism, and her dedication to diversity, equity, and inclusion, serve as inspiration and motivation to fellow Clark alumni.
The Young Alumni Award recognizes a Clark “Graduate of the Last Decade (GOLD)” who has served as an exemplary leader and volunteer for Clark since graduation. The award is being given to Emilee Cocuzzo ’18, MBA ’19.
Cocuzzo’s tireless volunteerism began soon after she graduated with her MBA from Clark, as her involvement as a student quickly translated into achievement as an alumna. As a GOLD Council co-chair, she developed the group’s committee structure and led the Student/Young Alumni Engagement Committee. Her project management skills helped solidify GOLD Council procedures and processes, and she produced countless profile articles for the GOLD Nuggets e-newsletter. Cocuzzo has hosted many young alumni events, regularly serves as a guest alumni speaker for Clark, and has mentored many current Clark students. This spring, she is teaching a class in entrepreneurship as an adjunct professor for Clark’s School of Management. As one of her nominators aptly said, “She is indomitable.”
The University Award for Service to Society, celebrating an individual who has made extraordinary contributions to society in the years since graduating from Clark while advancing a cause consistent with Clark’s values, is being presented to Robert (Jay) Ash ’83.
A longtime alumni volunteer, Ash is being recognized for his deep commitment to public service and societal change. He served a four-year term as the Massachusetts Secretary of Housing and Economic Development in Governor Charlie Baker’s first cabinet. During that time, he led efforts to retain and attract businesses, promote the revitalization of communities, and support the prosperity of the state’s residents. Among his many achievements in state government, he championed four major economic development bills into law and implemented more than 100 community revitalization initiatives across Massachusetts.
Ash now serves as president and CEO of the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization comprising 16 of the largest businesses in Massachusetts. The organization focuses on policies and initiatives that make the Massachusetts economy stronger and more competitive. His expansive service has touched many families in Massachusetts, from his home community of Chelsea to the state’s far western reaches and within the Worcester and Clark communities.
Inspired by the deep reverence Clark graduates have for the University’s motto, “Challenge Convention. Change Our World.,” the Alumni Council this year has established the Challenging Convention Award. The award honors an individual who, in the years since graduation, “has a crowning achievement in advancing a particular artistic, social, or scientific cause deemed consonant with University values.” The first-ever recipient of the Challenging Convention Award is Etel Haxhiaj ’04, M.A. ’08.
Haxhiaj is director of public education and advocacy for the Central Massachusetts Housing Alliance in Worcester. Her passion is to make a difference for families in the Worcester community by building strong economic, child care, and educational opportunities. Among her many efforts, she advocates for unhoused individuals to have access to public restrooms and cooling and heating centers; environmental justice for mothers and immigrant communities; fair labor practices for the working class; and safety and health equity for the BIPOC and immigrant communities.
In 2021, Haxhiaj won a seat on Worcester’s City Council, District 5 (Main South is within District 5), and is one of the few progressives on the council. Her nominator wrote, “Her work has not stopped, and she uses her platform continuously to advocate for issues of equity, public health, safety, and transparency.”
All alumni are invited to attend the cocktail party and awards dinner to celebrate the winners on Friday, May 19, during Clark’s Reunion Weekend; cocktails begin at 6 p.m., with dinner starting at 7. Tickets to the cocktail party and awards dinner are included in Reunion packages that can be purchased online. For more information, please visit Clark’s Reunion web page.
“Alumni and Friends Engagement appreciates the time, attention, and heart alumni devoted to the nomination process and award selection,” said Cindy Ironson, director of Alumni and Friends Engagement. “Many thanks to the Alumni Council’s Awards Committee: Brigid Palcic ’11, M.A. ’12 (chair); Justin Bailey ’00; David Brenerman ’73; Abbie Goldberg (faculty representative); Jermel Moody ’00; Edgardo Rivera ’86, P ’09; and Rebecca Sherer ’79.”