Walter Cronkite Awards honor renowned oceanographer and local anthropologist

The fundraiser benefited the Martha’s Vineyard Youth Leadership Initiative, a program for local students.

The 2014 Walter Cronkite Award winners and group of Martha's Vineyard Youth Leadership Institute (MVLYI) delegates enjoyed a visit aboard The Gadget, the sailboat formerly owned by Walter Cronkite and named Wyntje. From left are award winner Sam Low, MVLYI delegate Charlotte McCarron, Bob Nixon, award winner Sylvia Low, Stone Soup Institute executive director Marianne Larned, Shavanae Anderson, and MVYLI delegates Mary Ollen, Katherine Reid, and Ava Thors. Mr. Nixon and Ms. Anderson are past Cronkite Award winners. — Photo by Ashley Tilton Photograp

The Stone Soup Leadership Institute (SSLI) honored oceanographer Sylvia Earle, and Sam Low of Oak Bluffs, an award-winning documentary filmmaker, at the 5th Annual Walter Cronkite Awards Ceremony and reception Tuesday night. About 150 guests attended the $150 per ticket event in support of SSLI’s Martha’s Vineyard Youth Leadership Initiative (MVYLI), held on the grounds of Mr. Cronkite’s former home in Edgartown, now owned by Karen and David Brush.

Walter Cronkite IV presented the awards named for his grandfather to Ms. Earle and Mr. Low. The program also included guest speakers Bob Schieffer, CBS News chief Washington correspondent for CBS News and moderator of the network’s television show “Face the Nation,” and Christopher Callahan, dean of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

SSLI, a nonprofit organization founded in 1997 on Martha’s Vineyard, presents the Cronkite Awards to honor people who use the power of the media to create positive social change in the world, board president Marsha Reeves-Jews said in her opening remarks.

Mr. Cronkite, a long-time CBS anchorman, Vineyard sailor, and friend of many Islanders, served as SSLI’s honorary chairman for almost 10 years, before his death in 2009. Founder and executive director Marianne Larned told the audience that Mr. Cronkite became involved with the Institute after working on a television series based on her book, “Stone Soup for the World: Life-Changing Stories of Everyday Heroes.”

The first annual awards ceremony held in Mr. Cronkite’s name in 2010 honored his efforts to prepare youth for the future, as well as his life as a journalist.

In her remarks, Ms. Larned said the Institute created the Vineyard youth leadership project to train young people to become leaders in their lives, on the Island, and in the world. MVYLI supports and mentors local high school students who have decided to pursue higher education and helps prepare them for their future, both on and off the Island, through college prep and scholarships, job shadowing, and an annual Youth Leadership Summit for Sustainable Development.

This year’s summit, held June 21–27 in West Chop, was dedicated to oceans, which inspired the selection of Ms. Earle and Mr. Low.

Award winners

A pioneering oceanographer, explorer, author and lecturer, Ms. Earle formerly served as the chief scientist at NOAA. She has been a National Geographic Society Explorer-in-Residence since 1998.

Ms. Earle reminded the students in the audience that more has been learned about the ocean since the middle of the 20th century than during all preceding history.

“At the same time, more has been lost, more changed,” Ms. Earle said. “And so, at this moment in time, you’re armed with the knowledge. If you didn’t know that the ocean had problems, we’d be in serious trouble. But you do know, and you do have the power. And it’s the power of what Walter Cronkite used so well to communicate to his fellow humans, the state of the world, the past, the present, and especially the future.”

Ms. Earle apologized for having to leave early to attend a showing at Menemsha Beach that evening of a film, “Mission Blue,” about her quest to protect the ocean through a global network of marine protected areas dubbed “hope spots.” Chilmark filmmaker Bob Nixon, the producer, said it would be available on NetFlix on August 15.

Mr. Low, an Oak Bluffs resident, was recognized for his accomplishments as a filmmaker and author. His award-winning film, “The Navigators – Pathfinders of the Pacific,” documented the Polynesians’ settlement of the Pacific.

Mr. Low recently wrote a book, “Hawaiki Rising – Hokule’a, Nainoa Thomson and the Hawaiian Renaissance,” that was published in conjunction with the departure of Hokule’a, a replica of an ancient Polynesian canoe, on a three-year voyage.

Mr. Low said Hawaiian culture was dying when the canoe was built in 1976.

“To be voyaging in the path that our ancestors took to discover one-third of the earth’s surface and settle it was an astonishing experience for anyone with Hawaiian blood, and it caused a revival of Hawaiian culture that I as an anthropologist have never seen anywhere before,” he said.

Following the award presentations, Mr. Schieffer shared a few of his memories of Walter Cronkite as a friend and mentor. “First and foremost he was a journalist, a newsman,” he said. “He loved reporting and loved talking to people. I never saw Walter be rude to a single person that came up to him.”

Mr. Callahan spoke briefly about the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, which he said continues to emphasize Mr. Cronkite’s values of objectivity, accuracy, and fairness.

Youth leaders

The program also included remarks from two of this year’s MVYLI summit participants, Caley Bennett, 17, and Ava Thor, 15, both students at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School.

“Living on an island, we all mutually felt that we have a really good understanding of the ocean, and we see things a lot more clearly than people who might not live near an ocean,” Caley said. “Oceans are very important to our island economically, and even socially. A lot of people wouldn’t come to the Vineyard as tourists if we didn’t have such nice beaches.”

Ava reported on an ocean sustainability-in-action project that the youth delegates are planning in conjunction with the Ocean Conservancy’s international coastal cleanup initiative on September 20.

“Towards the end of the summit we were brainstorming to come up with a project that would engage everybody in the community, the locals, the wash-ashores, the Island-borns, the tourists, everybody, so that we could make our cause their cause, so that we could have a mutual understanding of how important the oceans are,” she said.

The delegates came up with the idea to host a gathering with food and music on Island beaches, perhaps over a span of one to three days, to showcase three project themes: marine wildlife, beach cleanup, and lawn fertilizers that contribute to water pollution.

MVYLI delegates Mary Ollen and Charlotte McCarron, who graduated from MVRHS this year, and Isabella El-Deiry, a student at Howard University, spoke briefly about the program’s benefits and positive influence on their lives.

Mr. and Ms. Brush said that as the owners of Mr. Cronkite’s former home, they wanted to support and carry on his legacy on the Vineyard. After the awards ceremony, guests enjoyed cocktails and canapés on the spacious grounds at the back of their home, which slope gently down to Edgartown Harbor.