The Yale College Council announced on Monday that Maya Lin ’81 ARC ’86 is the 2017 recipient of the Yale Undergraduates’ Lifetime Achievement Award, making her the third recipient of the award since its inception in 2015.
The award was established by former YCC President Michael Herbert ’16 to recognize Yale College alumni for outstanding work in a particular field and to facilitate dialogue between undergraduates and alumni. The two previous recipients were former President George H.W. Bush ’48 and broadcast journalist Anderson Cooper ’89.
The award ceremony will take place on Thursday, April 13 at 4 p.m. in the Sterling Law Building’s Levinson Auditorium.
The Yale Undergraduates’ Lifetime Achievement Award is the only award in the Ivy League that is organized entirely by students. Yale undergraduates chose Lin for her design of structures like the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., and the Yale Women’s Table on Cross Campus. Lin’s Vietnam memorial is the most visited memorial in the national capital.
“This is a recognition that’s duly deserved,” said Vicki Beizer ’18, public relations coordinator for the Women’s Center. “She has given a powerful representation of things that may not necessarily be recognized.”
The Yale Undergraduates’ Lifetime Achievement Award decision process took place in October, according to YCC President Peter Huang ’18. An initial email was sent to the student body soliciting open-ended nominations, and based on the popularity of the nominations, students narrowed down the list of candidates to six final names. The six names were then given to the undergraduate students for a final vote, in which around 800 students voted.
Since 2009, Lin has been working on what she says is her last memorial, called “What Is Missing?” The memorial commemorates the biodiversity that is currently being lost to environmental destruction — what scientists have termed the planet’s sixth mass extinction. Lin’s “What Is Missing?” aims to raise awareness about the loss of biodiversity and natural habitats by harnessing sound, media, science and art in temporary installations and a web-based project.
“I like to think that science and art often go hand in hand for many issues that we care about,” Huang said about the “What Is Missing?” project. “The science provides the logical arguments while art provides the emotional arguments.”
The foundation backing the project hopes to create a work that can be on display in multiple locations. One temporary installation, known as “The Empty Room,” has been exhibited in museums and galleries worldwide, including the Beijing Center for the Arts. The “What Is Missing?” foundation has produced over 75 educational short videos and special installations, many of which can be found online.
Beizer said the Women’s Table was “emblematic of change over time,” and noted that academic spaces like Yale have changed dramatically since women were first admitted. Beizer said that both the Women’s Table and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial were embodiments of many ongoing issues, and that Lin’s work made them “very visible” stories.
“I think the Women’s Table is a constant reminder of how Yale was once a place for only white males,” Huang said. “Now when I walk past it, I am reminded of how far Yale has come but am also reminded of how much further we can go as a community.”
The Women’s Center has not yet organized events to honor Lin when she visits campus next week, Beizer said.
Lin has received a variety of accolades, including the 2016 Presidential Medal of Freedom. In the press release announcing Lin as one of the recipients of the medal, the White House cited her ongoing “What Is Missing?” project, as well as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Additionally, former President Barack Obama awarded her the National Medal of Arts in 2009.
In 2005, Lin was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, which is known for deciding the winners of the Oscars each year. She was also elected to the National Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York. Her other works have included the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama, as well as New York City’s Museum of Chinese in America and the Langston Hughes Library in Clinton, Tennessee.
Lin formerly served on the Yale Corporation.