Six new Lincoln Laureates will be honored at the 59th Annual Lincoln Academy Convocation and Investiture on April 29 in Springfield at the Illinois State Capitol. Laureates are individuals who have made significant contributions to Illinois or whose achievements have brought honor to the state. "Their life stories are inspiring and show the obstacles and challenges that come with seeking great achievement," said Ron Spears, chancellor of the Lincoln Academy. Since its founding in 1964, the Lincoln Academy has named more than 350 Lincoln Laureates. This is Illinois' highest civilian award for professional and public service.
Ed Curtis (2019 laureate and CEO of Memorial Health) and Dr. Janet Gooch (UIS chancellor and Lincoln Academy academic trustee) are the convocation co-chairs. Claire Manning (Lincoln Academy trustee) and Diane Rutledge are co-chairs of the 2023 Convocation Host Committee.
Individuals are nominated in 10 categories: agriculture; the arts and performance arts; business, industry and communications; education; government and law; labor; medicine and science; religion; social services; and sports. Honorees are selected annually by the Lincoln Academy and awarded the Order of Lincoln at a convocation and investiture.
The first convocation was Feb. 12, 1965, at the Chicago Historical Society with Governor Otto Kerner presiding. The 1964 New York World's Fair was the impetus for creating a program to honor Illinoisans. The Illinois Land of Lincoln Pavilion, featuring Walt Disney's audio-animatronic figure of Abraham Lincoln, attracted worldwide attention. On Illinois Day, Kerner hosted a reception with some of Illinois' most celebrated individuals, including Lincoln's great-grandson, Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith. This gave birth to establishing the Order of Lincoln to recognize distinguished Illinoisans. The governor of Illinois is president of the Lincoln Academy. In 1992 Gov. Jim Edgar initiated a Hall of Fame of Historic Illinoisans whose achievements preceded the establishment of the Lincoln Academy.
A Student Laureate program was created in 1975. To date, over 2,000 graduating seniors have been honored. One student from every four-year nonprofit degree-granting institution in Illinois, and one community college student, are recognized annually. These 56 Student Laureates are selected by their college presidents based on exemplary leadership and service. They receive the Abraham Lincoln Civic Engagement Award (currently $1,000) and the Lincoln Medallion. The student convocation is in Springfield, historically at the Old State Capitol. The Oct. 14, 2023, ceremony will be the first in-person convocation since 2019.
Students benefit from the recognition and the opportunity to learn about the life experiences of Lincoln Laureates as inspiration for their own future. Stephanie Pace Marshall is a champion for developing a more robust and vibrant student laureate program. She is the founding director of the Illinois Math and Science Academy and a Lincoln Laureate recognized for her lifelong work in education. As Lincoln Academy chancellor (2016-2019), she led a strategic planning initiative, and the academy launched a Spirit of Lincoln Fund at the Community Foundation for the Land of Lincoln to provide sustainable funding. The Lincoln Academy is considering opportunities such as engaging students in exploring leadership attributes of Lincoln in the context of contemporary issues.
Chuck Davis is managing partner at the Springfield law firm of Brown, Hay and Stephens, LLP. He can see the Old State Capitol from his office. The first time he visited this historic building was 22 years ago as a 2001 Quincy University Student Laureate attending the student convocation. Davis says it was humbling to be recognized at a young age. Being a Student Laureate provided him access to outstanding leaders and helped him stand out when applying for law school and future employment. He considers the award a source of encouragement. "It reminded me of the importance of perseverance and hard work, and it motivated me to keep pushing myself to try to reach new heights," said Davis.
Proceeds from the annual convocation help fund the student laureate program. Davis, Nicolette Owens (UIS Student Laureate) and Emily Bone (Illinois College Student Laureate) will speak briefly on behalf of student laureates at the dinner following this year's ceremony.
59th Annual Lincoln Academy Convocation and Investiture
Sat. April 29, 5:30 – 7 p.m. Illinois State Capitol, House of Representatives
Reception and dinner, 7:15 p.m. – Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum
For reservations, sponsorships, to hear podcasts with Lincoln Laureates and for more information, go to www.TheLincolnAcademyofIllinois.org.
Presenting the 2023 Lincoln Laureates
Jayne Carr Thompson is a distinguished attorney, business consultant and public speaker. She argued cases before the Illinois and U.S. Supreme Courts and authored legal articles. As Illinois' First Lady, she was engaged with issues relating to women, child health care and education while also continuing her legal career and speaking on behalf of her husband, the late James R. Thompson, who was Illinois governor from 1977 to 1991. She founded a business consulting firm to apply her extensive experience to provide management strategies and litigation support services.
His Eminence Wilton Cardinal Gregory, a Chicago native, is seventh Archbishop of Washington. He served as auxiliary bishop, bishop and archbishop in Chicago, Belleville and Atlanta, respectively. In 2020 Pope Francis named him Cardinal. He is the first African American Cardinal. Cardinal Gregory has written extensively, including pastoral statements on the death penalty and euthanasia/physician-assisted suicide. Under his leadership as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the bishops implemented the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.
Karen Hasara entered politics in 1975 when few women were involved in government. A lifelong Springfield resident and former teacher, she's worked to better the community as a county board member, state representative, state senator, two-term Springfield mayor and community volunteer. She was the impetus to create the Women for Women Fund at the Community Foundation for the Land of Lincoln. She's a former University of Illinois trustee, chair of the Illinois Equal Justice Commission and member of the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission. She continues to be involved in projects to build international cooperation and goodwill.
John W. Rogers, Jr. is chairman, co-CEO and chief investment officer of Ariel Investments, America's largest Black-owned asset management firm. His passion for investing began at age 12. Rogers founded Ariel in 1983 to invest in undervalued small and medium-sized companies. He has been a regular contributor to Forbes magazine. Rogers was named Mutual Fund Manager of the Year by Sylvia Porter's Personal Finance magazine, an All-Star Mutual Fund Manager by USA TODAY, and was highlighted in the book, The World's 99 Greatest Investors. He serves on numerous boards of corporations and civic organizations.
Thomas E. Skilling III is the longtime chief meteorologist on WGN-TV and Chicago Tribune daily weather columnist. Skilling's successful career in broadcasting started at the age of 14 when he was hired by WKKD radio in his hometown of Aurora. Skilling celebrated his 40th anniversary with Chicago's WGN in 2018. He is known for his in-depth weather reports and enthusiasm, and for his special programs on weather phenomena, one of which won him an Emmy Award.
Paula Wolff is currently policy adviser of the Illinois Justice Project. Her 50-year career includes leadership positions at the highest levels of state government, higher education and the nonprofit sector. Wolff was Gov. James Thompson's director of policy and planning during his entire administration. Elected officials at all levels have called upon Wolff to address complicated issues. She assisted with transition teams for multiple governors. She was president of Governors State University for eight years. Wolff serves on numerous civic, foundation and corporate boards.
Karen Ackerman Witter is a member of the 2023 Convocation Host Committee.