Aili McConnon Adamson, who hails from Ontario, compiled an excellent record at Princeton. She majored in English, had a departmental GPA of 3.87, and was co-winner of a department award for her senior thesis proposal. Her professors described her as "extremely bright and wonderfully articulate," also "strong, resilient and extraordinarily mature," and, to sum up, "one of the best of the best."
The tragic events of 9/11 occurred during the fall of Aili's senior year. For her ReachOut '56 Fellowship, she decided to select a project that dealt with the aftermath of the attack and also built on her Princeton academic experience. Aili joined The Legacy Project, with the goal of assembling from scratch a literary anthology of works which address the tragedies of September 11 and other 20th century experiences of war, ethnic conflict and genocide around the world.
In Aili's words, "I directed the Legacy Project's Educational Outreach program, helping create educational tools to encourage discussion in the high school and college classroom and among the general public about how individuals and cultures remember and memorialize large-scale man-made tragedies like September 11."
Aili created a print anthology, titled Blooming Through the Ashes, which was published by Rutgers University Press in 2008 and is sold internationally through
Amazon.com. The anthology, designed for use in college and high school classrooms, contains such pieces as Toni Morrison's poem, "The Dead of September 11," which Ms. Morrison first read at a Princeton memorial service in September 2001. In addition, Aili prepared curriculum guides (piloted at the Beacon School in New York) to teach courses on the history of human rights violations, as recorded and distilled by novelists, poets, playwrights and essayists.
According to Aili, "The significance of the Literary Anthology is that it will enable students and viewers to gain an in-depth knowledge about the history of traumatic events around the globe, broaden awareness of the relationship between current events, history, and ethical values, highlight the vital place of the arts in remembering and reflecting the meaning and pain of tragedy, and motivate students and viewers to a greater appreciation and understanding of diverse political views and the consequences of hatred in violence."
Class of 2002
Clifford Chanin, President of The Legacy Project, had this to say about our Fellow: "Aili's presence made possible a range of activities that we simply would not have been able to accomplish without her. This is not simply a matter of having another person on staff, but rather the particular presence of Aili, whose commitment, to Legacy inspired her work from the moment she arrived. ReachOut '56 found the perfect way of linking a young person’s idealism and energy to the needs of a non-profit.
“With the completion of the literary anthology, Legacy realized a major organizational goal – one that would not have been possible without Aili. This speaks not only to the quality of her literary skills, but also the quality of the ReachOut '56 selection process, which sent us a young woman able to assume major professional responsibilities and excel in her work. It is this excellence that seems to me the hallmark of your program. Through Aili, ReachOut '56 has made a critical contribution to our organization. I am deeply grateful to you and your colleagues."
As has so often proved to be the case with our Fellows, Aili's Fellowship led to another fine opportunity for her. In her words, "As a result of my work during the ReachOut `56 Fellowship, I was selected to receive a Commonwealth Scholarship, a full scholarship awarded to 2% of global applicants and similar to the U.S. Marshall Scholarship, to continue looking at the intersection of writing, arts and human rights through a master's program at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom. This is just one example of the ways this Fellowship has changed my life."
After her year at Cambridge, Aili returned to The Legacy Project to complete her work. "The ReachOut '56 Fellowship," says Aili, "allowed me to create, direct and carry out a substantive project, a truly unique professional experience straight out of college. My days included corresponding with Nobel Laureates such as Seamus Heaney to discuss poetry's power against intolerance; speaking with human rights activists to determine how to best shape materials for students; and spending days with tenth graders at The Beacon School to talk about why it is important to discuss and memorialize large-scale violence.
"The opportunity to create an educational project from the ground up and give back to the community was an incredible Experience, and I am very grateful to ReachOut '56 for making this opportunity available. The ReachOut 56 Fellowship strengthened my conviction to continue forging a career combining my passion for nonprofit organizations, education, writing, and human rights activism. “It is exciting as one of the inaugural Reachout’56 Fellows to see the program continue to flourish, gain momentum and attract broad student interest as it has developed into the ReachOut 56-81-06 Fellowship. The combination of the new international fellowship and the core domestic fellowships lets Princeton students truly live out the university’s motto: ‘Princeton in the service of the nation and in the service of all nations.’ ”
Since her time as a ReachOut’56 fellow, Aili has continued to write about non-profits and human rights among other topics as a journalist. Her work has been published in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and BusinessWeek Magazine. She has also appeared on ABC, CNN and MSNBC. She is currently writing her second book, a biography of an Italian humanitarian with her brother Andres, Class of 2006, which Random House published in spring 2012.