On April 21, Chris Rosenberg ’86 accepted the Joan Shaw Herman Award for Distinguished Service at an assembly in the P.A.C. The Joan Shaw Herman Award—the only award CA gives, presented to an alum—underscores CA’s mission of doing good work in service to others. Established in 1976, it affirms the value of working toward a better world and drawing inspiration from individuals who are making a difference.
Kate Rea Schmitt ’62 is chair of the selection committee for the award and honored Rosenberg for his lifelong commitment to the transformative power of education. His career as a teacher and principal in under-resourced public schools exemplifies the power of education—and the ways in which social justice is fundamental in helping students thrive.
Rosenberg told the community about his work as a teacher and principal. “Our world [is challenging],” he said. “I want to build people up. I landed on education as a vehicle for change.”
Rosenberg talked about setting up one of the first family resource centers in his school community. He shared a recent thank-you note from a former student—now a teacher—who said that he inspired her life path: “Thank you for being one of the educational figures that stuck out, that found space to allow us as young students to grow, persevere, and find joy. Thank you for being exactly who you were. At the time, which is exactly what I needed to fall in love with school.”
Rosenberg, however, did not leave out the hardest aspects of working with young people in neighborhoods with gun violence: He spoke, he said, at the funeral of one of his former students. “I have spoken in front of a lot of crowds during my lifetime, but speaking at Derrick’s funeral shook me. … When you work in the service of others, you hope to contribute in some positive way to their lives, and it is gut-wrenching to speak at a young man’s funeral and know that you were unable to do anything to stop this terrible outcome.”
Following his graduation from CA, Rosenberg attended the University of Chicago, where he majored in history, with a focus on African American history. After college, he moved to New York City and taught history at JFK High School in the Bronx. He was also a teacher and recruiter for Teach for America before moving to California to teach grades 5 through 8 in Oakland and San Francisco. For more than 16 years, he served as the principal at several San Francisco public schools, focusing on supporting underserved students seeking pathways to academic success. Rosenberg recently returned to the Boston area to be closer to family.
Rosenberg was nominated for the award by his friend George “Jody” Cushing ’86, who said that Rosenberg thinks of education as a form of political activism.
“It is hard to know which path you should take through life,” Rosenberg said. “There are so many worthwhile pursuits and ways to contribute to the world which have merit and value. Spending your time serving others is challenging, tiring, and often frustrating. It is hard to measure your success, and oftentimes you have to admit you failed and the consequences of those failures are quite high. But the rewards are also tremendous [and] I also know that those people I have served have changed me and helped me become a better human being.”