Maryland Humanities celebrated its 45th anniversary in May through a special event bringing together over 200 supporters. The event highlighted the relevance of the humanities to Marylanders and honored three transformational leaders who have supported the growth and mission of the organization: UMBC President Freeman A. Hrabowski; James T. Brady, chair of the University System of Maryland Board of Regents, and Catherine R. Gira, president emerita of Frostburg State University.
“James Brady, Dr. Gira, and Dr. Hrabowski exemplify empathy as three friends who…speak about the power of the humanities in Maryland,” said Phoebe Stein, executive director of Maryland Humanities. “Through their service, commitment, and understanding of our mission, they give us the energy to continue to focus on the ‘public’ in public humanities.”
Stein also reflected on how the gathering came at a pivotal time, with critical issues about equity, race, sexuality, citizenship, diverse communities, education, and safety being at the forefront of public discourse. She recognized the important role of the humanities in these conversations, noting, “There is an urgency right now to relate to one another, to understand what is human between us and highlight the empathy in our communities.”
UMBC faculty and staff attended to support and celebrate Hrabowski. “President Hrabowski has been an abiding champion of this work,” says Jessica Berman, director of the UMBC Dresher Center for the Humanities. “He reminds people at every turn that society’s most pressing problems can’t be solved by technological solutions alone and that history, philosophy, and the stories we tell are crucial to our ability to understand human life.”
On the occasion of the anniversary, the three honorees spoke of the value of the humanities and the role of the humanities in their lives and their leadership. They also reflected on their work together and their friendships over the past 25 years.
“Freeman and Catherine are two of my favorite people in the planet and some of my closest friends. They have been an inspiration to me,” said Brady. “They understand that the humanities teach you how to listen, be thoughtful, and live a meaningful life.”
Gira said of her fellow honorees, “Freeman and Jim understand that documents and statistics are valuable, but you need the humanities story to give a face to the facts.” She described Hrabowski as “one of the most brilliant, creative, innovative leaders—people—that I have ever known.” She said, “He has that incredible ability to inspire other people and then empower them to take a project, an idea, and run with it.”
Hrabowski commented further on how humanities have made possible his approach to leadership and building relationships. “I think of the humanities as having given me a context for living my own life, and for knowing how I would work with and be as supportive as possible of others,” he said.
Hrabowski also reflected on Brady and Gira as friends and as leaders. Speaking of Brady, he shared, “Jim is so connected to ideas. He is able to do so many things and do them really well. He loves to make a difference.” Of Gira, he said, “She has been an inspiration to thousands.”
When Maryland Humanities asked the honorees for their thoughts on the value and impact of the humanities, a common thread emerged. “We live in a divisive world and this is a place where we want to say what binds us together as humans,” said Gira. Echoing that sentiment, Hrabowski offered, “The humanities will always matter because they…give us hope.”
Banner image (L to R): Phoebe Stein, James Brady, Catherine Gira, and Freeman Hrabowski. Photos by Howard Korn Photography. Video courtesy of Maryland Humanities.