Goddard College to Honor Olympian and Alumnus Tommie Smith at Commencement

News Release — Goddard College
Sept. 26, 2013

PLAINFIELD — Goddard College today announced that 1968 Olympic gold medalist Tommie Smith will be presented with the 2013 Presidential Award for Activism at Goddard’s October 6 commencement ceremony in Plainfield.

Smith’s iconic Black Power salute as he stood on the Olympic podium at the 19th Olympiad remains one of the most memorable moments in sports history and the American Civil Rights Movement.

Smith received his Masters Degree in Sociology in 1974 from Goddard and has since enjoyed a distinguished career as a coach, educator and activist.

“My time at Goddard College was an unforgettable educational odyssey, and it is an honor to return to receive this award,” said Smith. “At Goddard I was able to bring all of my previous academic and life experience together, express myself freely, and develop my understanding of the impact of racism on all aspects of the human experience, particularly in the field of sports.”

At the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, Smith broke the world and Olympic record with a time of 19.83 seconds and became the 200-meter Olympic champion. As the Star Spangled Banner played and Smith and teammate John Carlos stood on the victory podium, draped with their Olympic medals, each raised a clinched fist covered in a black leather glove in a historic stand for black power, liberation, and solidarity.

This unexpected event propelled Smith into the spotlight as a human rights spokesman, activist, and symbol of African American pride at home and abroad. “I was cheered by some, jeered by others, and ignored by many more,” said Smith, “but I made a commitment to dedicate my life, even at great personal risk, to champion the cause of oppressed people.”

Smith and Carlos were ultimately kicked out of the Olympic village after the event and sent home to face public criticism and negative press in the mainstream media.

Following the games of the 19th Olympiad, Smith played professional football with the Cincinnati Bengals, and went on to become an Assistant Professor of Physical Education at Oberlin College, where he also coached track and field, football and basketball, and served as Athletic Director. He became a member of the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1978 and served on the coaching staff of the 1995 World Indoor Championship team in Barcelona, Spain. He retired in 2005 from Santa Monica College where he was a faculty member and coach for 27 years.

He continues to work with youth in retirement through his foundation, the Tommie Smith Youth Initiative, which includes training clinics, track meets, and educational programs to promote heath, wellness and fight childhood obesity.

“When Tommie Smith bowed his head and thrust his fist to the sky in silent protest, he stunned the world and made a courageous statement for civil rights that we will not forget,” said Goddard President Barbara Vacarr. “We are honored to welcome Mr. Smith back to Goddard to present this award in recognition of his commitment to the cause of social justice and a lifetime of educating our youth.”

The Goddard College Presidential Award for Activism recognizes alumni who have made significant contributions in the field of social justice and who embody the mission and values of Goddard College.

The commencement ceremony will take place at the Haybarn Theatre at Goddard College, located at 123 Pitkin Road in Plainfield, at 4:00 p.m. on Sunday, October 6.

Press Release

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  • David Connor

    I am thrilled to be able to see Tommie Smith, whose inspirational Black Power gesture with teammate John Carlos on the Olympic podium in 1968 was an acknowledgement that international recognition for an exceptional athletic achievement was not synonymous with full racial acceptance and freedom in the U.S. and drew Mr. Thomas to a life of activism and education furthering those rights in our country. David Connor

    • David Connor

      My legitimate first and last name are correctly included in my comment. What further “moderation” is necessary? David Connor

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