The Distinguished Alumnae Award recipients for 2019 are Sylvia Totah Calabrese ’69 for service to Spence and Maxine Burkett ’94 for her professional achievements. Members of the Spence Alumnae Association recognize Sylvia and Maxine for their professional success and support and service to the School.
Maxine Burkett ’94
As a 15-year-old sophomore at Spence and guest on the “Charlie Rose” show, Maxine Burkett stated that she wanted to be “an activist, and speak out on pressing issues.” Today, as a law professor at the William S. Richardson School of Law, University of Hawaii, and a global fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, she is a tireless advocate for island resiliency in the face of a changing climate. At Richardson, Maxine teaches climate change law and policy, torts, ocean and coastal law and international law. She is a leading expert on the law and policy of climate change and has written extensively in diverse areas of climate change law, with a particular focus on climate justice and climate migration, exploring the disparate impact of climate change on vulnerable communities both in the United States and globally.
At 42, Maxine has built an international reputation as a prominent academic thinker. From 2009-2012, she founded and served as the inaugural Director of the Center for Island Climate Adaptation and Policy (ICAP). As director of ICAP, she led pioneering early work on climate adaptation and produced outreach and education programs for community leaders and decision-makers in Hawaii and other Pacific Island nations, and policy documents for local governments that are still regularly used. In 2010, in recognition of her climate and equity leadership, Maxine was the youngest ever recipient of the Wayne Morse Chair of Law and Politics at the Wayne Morse Center, University of Oregon.
In 2015, Maxine was appointed to the federal advisory committee for the Sustained National Climate Assessment until it was disbanded by the following administration. Maxine served on the board of the Hawaii Presidential Center and helped lead Honolulu’s bid for the Obama Presidential Library, which led to the Obama Foundation’s Asia-Pacific Program work being located in Honolulu. In 2018, with renowned peace educator Maya Soetoro-Ng, Maxine co-founded and serves as executive director of the Institute for Climate and Peace, which is committed to advancing effective and inclusive process for climate resilient peace-building for the most vulnerable through education, collaboration, and policy transformation. In 2019, the Institute for Climate and Peace helped lead programming for the Obama Foundation’s Asia-Pacific Program convening.
Maxine received her B.A. at Williams College, which awarded her the Bicentennial Medal for Distinguished Achievement in 2016. She also attended Exeter College, Oxford University and received her law degree from Berkeley Law at the University of California. She was a White House intern, an Omidyar Fellow, a 2016 recipient of Pacific Business News’ 40 Under 40 award, and a 2017 awardee of Hawaii Business Magazine’s 20 for the Next 20. Maxine serves on the boards of the Global Greengrants Fund, ELAW, and the Blue Planet Foundation. She is also a member scholar of the Center for Progressive Reform and the American Law Institute.
Maxine resides in Oahu with her husband and two children, where she spends her free time hiking, weeding, and picking ripe fruit right off of the trees in her yard.
Sylvia Totah Calabrese ’69
Sylvia has served two terms on the Alumnae Board from 1995 – 1998 and again starting in 2015. She also is co-chair of the Alumnae Annual Fund. Sylvia, with her late classmate, Laura Livingston Gibson, has served on every Reunion Committee for the Class of 1969. A member of the Outreach Committee, she has been Annual Fund and News and Notes Class Representative for as long as she can remember, and is a member of The 1892 Society, the School’s planned giving group. She is the mother of Julia Calabrese Monteagudo ’06.
Words from Sylvia’s classmates to support her nomination included:
“The most salient quality Sylvia has always shown her classmates is the strong desire to keep us connected to each other and to our legacy as Spence alumnae. I will forever be grateful for her efforts to reconnect me with the School that changed my future.”
“This award is custom-made for her. She is the glue that keeps our class together and the person we go to for support and wisdom.”
“I count on her, I believe in her and I am grateful for her.”
“Sylvia deserves this award. She has earned it with every step always coming from a place of love in support of the School.”
“Honestly, I don’t even know everything Sylvia has done for Spence. I do know the impact she has on me. She is a true and loyal and brilliant friend, who drops deliciously erudite references as easily as I drop my napkin. There are far too few people who can make me laugh and make me think equally and simultaneously.”
“It is Sylvia herself who has brought this class of wonderful, strong, opinionated women back into the Spence fold. This is alumnae relations of the highest order. Our class now not only appreciate each other (which has always been the case), but I believe recognize the role Spence had in making us who we are. Sylvia has imparted to us her more recent experiences as a Spence parent and, through her own, very-powerful endorsement of the School and obvious investment of significant time and energy, has instilled a new-found excitement about the School into us all.”
“I’d like to nominate Sylvia Totah Calabrese for the Distinguished Alumnae Award. She has given tirelessly of herself to make Class of ‘69 reunions successful, and actually made sure they were fabulous. For instance, she arranged for our favorite English teacher to attend the class dinner we always have on the Saturday of the reunion weekend. She has also distinguished herself by going back to school and getting an MA while in her 60s, by writing at least one book, by carrying on a hugely popular blog, and by sending her daughter to Spence. She is impossible to discourage and always creates inclusion. She is very friendly and kind. For all these reasons, I think she should receive this award.”