Previous recipients of the award include more political figures such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu and novelist Elie Wiesel. Although an actor like Stone seems unlikely company for such dignitaries, Harvard Foundation Director Dr. S. Allen Counter called Stone “the embodiment of humanitarianism,” referring to her 10 years of AIDS advocacy work as the campaign chairman of the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amFAR).
While the artistic value of Stone’s acting projects may be debatable, hopefully few at Harvard doubt the value of her choices in social action.
Senior Admissions Officer David L. Evans emphasized the strong impact of visual media on youth, commending Stone’s “courage to put your body, voice, and profession where your beliefs are.”
When asked if she believes her sex appeal helps her gain public support in fundraising, Stone responded, “I think you have to be willing to be shameless, to withstand whatever comes with the moment of change. It might bring problems, catastrophes, personal humiliation… but if you really believe in that change, the fierceness of your commitment will carry you through.”
At the luncheon reception at Lowell House, several members of the Harvard staff and faculty commented that the day’s events proved how today’s progressively diverse Harvard is a far cry from the College’s history of educating primarily affluent white males.
Professor of Comparative Religion and Indian Studies and Lowell House Master Diana L. Eck commented specifically on the increasing acceptance of gay and lesbian couples, a personal concern for Eck as a recently married lesbian, and applauded Stone’s work in If These Walls Could Talk, a “powerful movie about lesbianism.”
Stone later responded to Eck’s comment, saying that she “never dreamed of having a Harvard professor thank me for making If These Walls Could Talk. You have no idea how much that means to me.”
Despite the award’s ostensible emphasis on Stone’s AIDS activism, few members of the Harvard community mentioned it directly.
In fact, student Elijah M. Hutchinson ’06 was the only person to discuss AIDS at length. Hutchinson stressed the need to address AIDS patients as individuals, not faceless statistics.
Instead of focusing on the specifics of her activism, Stone sought to use examples from her personal life to inspire her audience’s fight against the internal roots of intolerance in themselves and for furthering causes that resonate with them.
At the luncheon, Stone implored Harvard students to “at all costs, follow your truth,” despite the conflict this practice has engendered in her personal life. “Most of the people I know have disagreed with the choices I’ve made. They said [my choices] were antisocial, would ruin my career,” she said. “That’s when I knew I was on the right track.”
Luckily, the same truth that led her to Catwoman also led her to further humanitarian projects.
During her public speech in Memorial Church, Stone focused on combating personal intolerance. She described intolerance “as a reflection of something within us we cannot tolerate” that originates in small daily frustrations over interactions with others.
Stone additionally emphasized the need to cultivate inner peace, describing her recovery from a brain injury several years ago as “an illuminating experience…that taught me to be aware and present in the moment, because that’s all I could do.”
Although Stone feels personally compelled to pursue her humanitarian work and to use her celebrity status to help her in those efforts, she does not believe that other public figures should necessarily follow suit. When asked if she believes celebrity artists have a social imperative to help others, Stone replied “absolutely not. I don’t think artists have an imperative to do anything…They should be free to make art.”
Stone’s upcoming professional projects will merge her artistry with her activism. She is in the process of writing a book, the profits of which will go to fund AIDS research.
Additionally, Stone recently worked with socialite music producer Denise Rich to write the song “Come Together Now,” which will be recorded by a group of celebrities including Aretha Franklin, Lindsay Lohan, and Peter Gabriel for a CD to fund relief efforts for victims of South Asia’s recent tsunami.
The Harvard Office for the Arts (OFA) has invited Stone to return as a master teacher in the OFA’s Learning from Performers program, and at the luncheon there was some informal discussion of Stone returning to assist the First-Year Arts Program (FAP). Stone says she is very excited about both possibilities and hopes her schedule allows her to pursue them.
—Staff writer Marin J.D. Orlosky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org