2016 Grawemeyer Award winners
2016 Grawemeyer Award recipients Gary Haugen, Linda Olson, Karl Alexander, Steven Maier, Susan R. Holman, Victor Boutros and Hans Abrahamsen

“It validates these ideas and says that they really matter,” said Susan R. Holman of winning the 2016 Grawemeyer Award in Religion. “It is an incredible honor. It is an immense responsibility — a sense of how can I pay back with my life for this recognition?”

Holman and her fellow 2016 Grawemeyer Award recipients — Hans Abrahamsen, Gary Haugen, Victor Boutros, Karl Alexander, Linda Olson and Steven Maier — are the latest in a line of more than 130 people whose powerful ideas and creative works have been encircled in the spotlight of H. Charles Grawemeyer’s vision and generosity. A University of Louisville graduate, entrepreneur and philanthropist, Grawemeyer believed ideas have the power to change the world and so established the awards program to recognize achievements in several fields of endeavor: music composition, world order, education, religion and psychology.

The 2016 honorees recently visited the University of Louisville to accept their $100,000 prizes and to discuss their award-winning works with hundreds of lecture-attending students, faculty, staff and community members.   

Hans Abrahamsen – Music Composition

The Grawemeyer Award-winning song cycle for soprano and orchestra, “let me tell you,” is about “a woman who dares now to take her words and tell her story,” said Danish composer Abrahamsen.

His half-hour work presents a first-person narrative by Ophelia, the tragic noblewoman from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” The libretto by Paul Griffiths is adapted from his 2008 novel — also titled “let me tell you” — and consists of seven poems created using only the minimal vocabulary that Shakespeare originally scripted for Ophelia. 

“The voice of the singer, somehow she is created out of the orchestra, out of the music,” said Abrahamsen. “She becomes stronger and stronger.”

View photos from Abrahamsen’s lecture and master class.

Gary Haugen and Victor Boutros – Ideas Improving World Order

“The poor are struggling to get out of their circumstances of desperation and that effort is just totally undercut by these predatory forces of violence that are not being controlled in the developing world,” said Haugen, founder and president of the International Justice Mission, a human rights organization that works with local authorities to combat violence and build justice systems.  

The absence of law enforcement in developing countries and how it undermines the fight against global poverty is explored in the 2014 book, “The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence.” The work earned Haugen and co-author Boutros this year’s award for Ideas Improving World Order.

“You don’t want to draw nearer to pain that you feel can’t change. For me, the great hope that has come from doing this work … is seeing that [conditions] do change,” said Boutros, a visiting scholar at George Washington University Law School and a former federal prosecutor for the U.S. Department of Justice, where he investigated human trafficking and hate crimes around the country. “That has been such an encouragement that the Grawemeyer Award has brought to me because I know that its focus is not just on world impact, but ideas that are really feasible.”

View photos from Haugen and Boutros’ lecture.

Karl Alexander and Linda Olson – Education  

Education can’t trump impoverished beginnings. That key conclusion, outlined in the 2014 book “The Long Shadow: Family Background, Disadvantaged Urban Youth, and the Transition to Adulthood,” earned authors Alexander, the late Doris Entwisle and Olson this year’s education prize. The sociologists’ decades-long research study of 800 Baltimore-area urban youths from first grade through adulthood challenges the idea that access to public education means equal opportunity.

“We’d like to think this is the land of opportunity. That if you work hard, play by the rules, do what your parents tell you, do what your teachers tell you, then good things will follow,” said Alexander. “We would like to think that we’re able to deliver on that promise, but in point of fact, the reality is: it falls short.”  

View photos from Alexander’s lecture.

Susan R. Holman – Religion

Having earned degrees in religious studies, nutrition and psychology, Susan R. Holman, a senior writer at the Global Health Education and Learning Incubator at Harvard University, is uniquely qualified to address what she calls a “divide between religion and health.” Her award-winning idea—that faith-based and human rights organizations’ divergent ideological approaches can create discord and ultimately undermine both groups’ efforts to address global health issues — is examined in the book, “Beholden: Religion, Global Health, and Human Rights.”

“I thought, ‘There needs to be some kind of basic primer to help my faith-based friends actually learn the … human rights language and something that would also speak to the public health people to realize that dialogue and appreciation for history has benefits,’ ” said Holman.

The religion prize is awarded jointly by the University of Louisville and the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

View photos from Holman’s lecture.

Steven Maier – Psychology

“What makes some people vulnerable to bad events and what makes others resilient and bounce back?” said Steven Maier, distinguished professor of psychology and neuroscience and Center for Neuroscience director at University of Colorado-Boulder. “Once we can get an idea of the fundamental differences, can we figure out how the brain makes this happen?”

His pursuit to answer these questions led to the discovery of a brain mechanism that not only produces resilience to trauma but also aids in coping with future adversity and earned Maier the 2016 psychology prize. The idea that behavioral control induces resilience has become important in psychology, neuroscience and other academic disciplines, as well as clinical research and therapies for depression and anxiety disorders. Maier laid the groundwork for understanding the brain mechanism involved in how one assesses and deals with adverse events.

View photos from Maier’s lecture.

Interested in hearing more from the 2016 Grawemeyer Award winners?  Listen to these extended interviews featured on the UofL Today with Mark Hebert radio show:

Music Composition – Hans Abrahamsen

Ideas Improving World Order – Gary Haugen and Victor Boutros

Education – Karl Alexander and Linda Olson

Religion – Susan R. Holman

Psychology – Steven Maier

Check out photos from the 2016 Grawemeyer Awards Ceremony here.