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Barbara Laskin

Macalester Student wins Mario Savio Young Activist Award

Timothy DenHerder-Thomas accepting the Mario Savio Young Activist Award, photo credit: Anita Medal / Mario Savio Memorial Lecture Fund

Macalester senior Timothy DenHerder-Thomas accepting the Mario Savio Young Activist Award. Photo Credit: Anita Medal Photography -
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October 28, 2009 - St. Paul, Minn. - Timothy DenHerder-Thomas, a 22-year-old senior at Macalester College, has been awarded the Mario Savio Young Activist Award for his work in tackling the problems of climate change and environmental justice. As part of the award, DenHerder-Thomas received $6,000, half for his project and half to use as he wishes. The award ceremony took place on Tuesday, October 27, in California.

“I am honored to receive this important award,” said DenHerder-Thomas. “I plan to use the funds for a Summer of Solutions national leadership gathering and related program development efforts to continue engaging young people in environmental stewardship and sustainable community development.”

DenHerder-Thomas received the prize for developing practical new programs to spur ecological innovation and sustainable community development. After establishing a revolving fund at Macalester that encourages students to implement campus sustainability practices and recaptures the savings created, he went on to organize Summer of Solutions, a program that trains youth leaders to partner with local groups to develop community projects around energy efficiency, sustainable food production, urban design, community-based energy, and green industry. Since creating the Summer of Solutions in 2008, DenHerder-Thomas has helped it spread across the country while developing new models, like a community energy cooperative that demonstrate the opportunities for economic recovery and social justice that a green economy can provide.

DenHerder-Thomas was one of only two young leaders nationally to win this annual award. The second recipient was Chelsea Chee, a 25-year old Navajo woman and youth organizer for the Black Mesa Water Coalition in Arizona. Chee has been working to reorient the Navajo nation towards a "greener' future: opposing fossil fuel extraction and the resumption of uranium mining, encouraging the use of grey water, and promoting a green jobs program. Her efforts have resulted in the passage of job legislation and the creation of numerous youth groups and youth-run radio programs to support these initiatives.

"Timothy and Chelsea strike us as representing two key aspects of the climate debate-- the need to build bridges across class divides and challenge the system from within and the need for those communities most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, though least responsible for it, to have a strong voice in the debate," said Lynne Hollander Savio, chairperson of the awards program. "Chelsea has had to struggle against great odds -- a vast territory, little money, and tribal history and cultural values, while Timothy has been exceptionally creative and ingenious in developing new, self-sustaining projects."

The awards for leadership ability, creativity, and integrity, were presented last night at the 13th annual Mario Savio Memorial Lecture, delivered this year by journalist Naomi Klein at the University of California, Berkeley campus. Both the Lecture and the Young Activist Award, which is given to a young person with a deep commitment to human rights and social justice and a proven ability to transform this commitment into effective action, honor the late Mario Savio, who came to public notice in 1964 when students at Berkeley rebelled against restrictions on political activity at the university. Their protest drew nationwide attention and stirred activism by college students across the country.

Although condemned by university administrators and public opinion at the time, the Free Speech Movement has been recognized for some years as having made a positive contribution to university life. The Free Speech Movement café, commemorating the protest, was opened in the undergraduate library in 1998 and has become a popular campus gathering place. The yearly lecture series which bears his name is co-sponsored by several departments at the university, and has presented such well-known speakers as journalist Molly Ivins, teacher and author Cornel West, and historian Howard Zinn.


Macalester College, founded in 1874, is a national liberal arts college with a full-time enrollment of 1,958 students. Macalester is nationally recognized for its long-standing commitment to academic excellence, internationalism, multiculturalism, and civic engagement.