Wangari Maathai | Benedictine College

Wangari Maathai Day - March 3

In recognition of the work of the late Wangari Maathai, Nobel Laureate and Benedictine alumna, the African Union has designated March 3, every year, as Wangari Maathai Day. Benedictine College joins with the Green Belt Movement, founded by Wangari as a means to preserve the world’s forests, and other environmental organizations, government agencies, and nations around the world in remembering Wangari and recognizing the value of her ideals of good governance, environmental sustainability, and the expansion of democracy.

When Wangari accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on December 10, 2004, she made her alma mater the only Catholic college in America with a Peace Prize winner among its alumni. Maathai, from Kenya, came to the United States as part of the Kennedy Airlift in 1960 and earned a degree in biology from Mount St. Scholastica College, now Benedictine College, in 1964.

On December 10, 2014, the college marked the 10th Anniversary of the Nobel ceremony by announcing the winners of two new Maathai Discovery Awards. A donor stepped up and gave the funds for Mount St. Scholastica to endow the awards in Wangari’s name and Sister Helen Mueting, OSB, announced the first recipients.

“The winners of the inaugural Maathai Discovery Awards are Caleb Schmitz, from Dodgeville, Wisconsin, and Emily Dyer, from Elkhorn, Nebraska,” said S. Helen

Each Maathai Discovery Award carries a $500 stipend for the student, and up to an additional $500 to complete their proposed Discovery Project. The award supports projects that focus on stewardship, sustainability, women’s equality, and/or environmental justice.

“Those were exciting times at the college as we had one of our own win the Nobel Peace Prize,” said Benedictine College President Stephen D. Minnis, who traveled to Oslo to attend the 2004 ceremony. “When you were with Wangari Maathai, you knew you were in the presence of greatness, but she put you perfectly at ease.”

Wangari returned to Benedictine College in 2007 to give an address that drew thousands and made national news. She passed away in 2011 after battling cancer. Since then, the College has remembered her in several ways. Her classmates from the Mount Class of ’64 planted a tree in St. Scholastica Plaza on the college campus and earlier this year her statue was erected next to that tree.

President Minnis also recognized the Student Government Association’s Campus Development Committee and the new Sustainability Club, both student organizations working toward a greener campus, which he said Maathai would have loved.

Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977 after conducting research that linked Kenyan economic and societal problems to deforestation. Since then, the group has planted more than 40 million trees worldwide has brought environmental issues into the realm of international politics. She won the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to promote democracy, peace and sustainable development and is the first Peace Prize winner to have an environmental focus.

Founded in 1858, Benedictine College is a Catholic, Benedictine, residential, liberal arts college located on the bluffs above the Missouri River in Atchison, Kansas. The school is proud to have been named one of America’s Best Colleges by U.S. News & World Report as well as one of the top Catholic colleges in the nation by First Things magazine and the Newman Guide. It prides itself on outstanding academics, extraordinary faith life, strong athletic programs, and an exceptional sense of community and belonging. It has a mission to educate men and women within a community of faith and scholarship.

Check out these links to some of Wangari's history here in Atchison and around the world:

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