Campus News

Hanley Denning '92 Receives Common Good Award

Story posted June 03, 2002

To read about other awards presented during Reunion click the links below:
Alumni Award for Faculty and Staff: Kathy Billings
Distinguished Educator Award: Ray Kierstead '56
Alumni Service Award: Bob Morrell '47

Hanley Graham Denning, Bowdoin class of 1992, was presented the 2002 Common Good Award June 1, during Reunion Weekend.

Denning has dedicated her life to helping the children of the world, particularly those suffering the ravages of disease and poverty. She has exemplified the Common Good in her tireless service to those children most in need as an outreach worker for Shoreline, a Brunswick mental health center, as a teacher with Head Start in North Carolina, and at the Foundation for Children with AIDS in Roxbury, Massachusetts. Working amid the filth of Guatemala City's garbage dump, she has brought dignity to the daily lives of countless families and provided an education to students under her care and inspiration to those who know her.

A native of Yarmouth, she was a track champion at Bowdoin while excelling in the classroom as a psychology major. At Wheelock College, she earned a master's degree in early childhood education. In 1997, she sold all her possessions and moved to Guatemala despite knowing little Spanish. She immersed herself in the language and culture of the country, working with 90 children for a church-based teaching program there. She has said that working with these children "captured her heart" and prompted her to continue her work for three years.

In December 1999, she hesitantly agreed to visit the Guatemala City garbage dump. Despite her years of work with those in need, she said recently that "nothing prepared me for the horrors I saw" there - families living in cardboard houses and digging through the filth for food; few families with running, let alone potable water; scores of children with no formal education; rampant drug abuse.

A visit turned into a calling, and she soon founded Safe Passage, a nonprofit agency providing education, food, and a drop-in center for the children who live in the garbage dump. Her leadership has created an empowerment program that teaches children the value of education, gives them a safe place to play and study, and provides them with much-needed hope. She has become a passionate advocate for the children, securing donations to provide them with the books, uniforms, and fees needed to attend the Guatemalan public schools.

In an abandoned church at the dump's edge, she works as Safe Passage's executive director, training volunteers and staff, and overseeing the hundreds of children in the program. Her work has made a difference in the lives of countless individuals and her selfless devotion has become an inspiration for many.

Established on the occasion of the Bowdoin College Bicentennial, the Common Good Award honors those alumni who have demonstrated an extraordinary, profound, and sustained commitment to the common good, in the interest of society, with conspicuous disregard for personal gain in wealth or status. The Award is presented each year during Reunion Convocation.

Common Good Award recipients personify the idea of the common good as set forth by Bowdoin's first president, Joseph McKeen. In his inaugural address on September 2, 1902, McKeen reminded his audience that, "It ought always to be remembered that literary institutions are founded and endowed for the common good and not for the private advantage of those who resort to them for education. It is not that they may be able to pass through life in an easy and reputable manner, but that their mental powers may be cultivated and improved for the benefit of society."

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