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Dr. Renée Richards ‘51 receives alumni award: School recognizes doctor, athlete, and activist

Surya Gowda

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On Thursday night, Dr. Renée Richards ’51 was awarded the Alumni Association Award for Distinguished Achievement at the annual Alumni dinner at The Palace Hotel.
Dr. Richards, known as Richard Raskind during her time at the school, is “being recognized for her outstanding achievements in all three areas of her multi-pronged career: ophthalmology, tennis, and human rights,” Director of Alumni Relations Kristin Lax said.
Dr. Richards studied at Yale University, became a renowned eye surgeon, rose through the ranks of the Navy, and became a champion tennis player with a famous left hand serve, Head of the Alumni Council Samantha Brand said. Dr. Richards took the United States Tennis Association to court in order to earn the right to play professional women’s tennis, winning the landmark case which remains an important precedent for transgender rights, Brand said.
Dr. Richards’ time at the school was probably the most important formative years of her educational life, she said.
She chose to go the school by herself at the age of 12. Her parents had never even heard of the school before, she said.
“I learned there how to behave as a good citizen, combining my own personal agenda for education and learning how to connect to my fellow students and teachers,” Dr. Richards said.
The decision of the recipient of the award is made by a committee of alumni who serve on the Alumni Council, the governing body of the Alumni Association, who accept nominations from fall through spring then deliberate, vote, and confer the award each year, Lax said. The Award for Distinguished Achievement was first awarded to William Fletcher Russell ‘09 in 1939, she said.
“Past honorees represent a complete range of professional pursuits — authors, judges, doctors, entertainers, scientists, poets, politicians, composers, and inventors, among many others,” Lax said.
Some previous recipients of the award are William Carlos Williams ’03, Justine Wise Polier ‘20, the first female Justice of New York, and Gil Shaham ‘89, a Grammy Award-winning violinist.
“My reaction to finding out that I am being given this award was humility. The realization that I will be on a list of so many truly accomplished graduates- in so many diverse careers. Being given this award makes me very proud- that the work I have done in three disparate areas of endeavor- is recognized as meaningful,” Dr. Richards wrote in an email.
During her speech at the event, Dr. Richards spoke about all of the factors in her life which made her who she is today. She discussed all three of her careers along with the struggles that followed them.

“My personal struggle with gender dysphoria and its ultimate resolution was private and hardly humanitarian. My decision to become a professional woman tennis player was the first selfish thing I had done and only eventually after I started that struggle that I realized the affect that it was going to have on disenfranchised groups,” Dr. Richards said during her speech.

Two years ago Aurora Grutman (12) planned a conference about gender and equality and invited Dr. Richards as one of the keynote speakers, Grutman said. After reading her books and learning about her life, Grutman became fond of Dr. Richards, Grutman said.
She was thrilled when she found out Dr. Richards was receiving this award, and was “surprised that this award hasn’t come sooner,” Grutman said.

“Why do I think I’m being given this award? I don’t know…maybe they ran out of potential candidates! I had three careers; medicine, tennis, and human rights. Recognition for all three? Just two? Maybe three? Not for me to say,” Dr. Richards wrote in an email.

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Horace Mann's Weekly Newspaper Since 1903
Dr. Renée Richards ‘51 receives alumni award: School recognizes doctor, athlete, and activist