A nationally recognized opera singer and music educator, a higher education administrator, and an internationally recognized human rights advocate were the recipients of Randolph College’s 2015 Alumnae Achievement Awards this weekend.
Since 1981, the award has been given annually to alumnae who personify the value of a liberal arts education and have brought distinction to themselves and to the College. This year, awards were presented to Carol Shepard Gutknecht ’67, Edna Aguirre Rehbein ’77, and Kakenya Ntaiya ’04 during a dinner ceremony Saturday evening. Upon receiving the award, each alumna spoke about their accomplishments and how the College helped prepare them for success.
Carol Gutknecht ’67
Making her opera debut in 1980 in the New York City Opera’s production of The Love for Three Oranges, Gutknecht went on to perform with numerous opera companies including the Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Opera Company of Boston. Her extensive repertoire includes roles in such classic masterpieces as La Traviata, La Boheme, and I Pagliacci, as well as premiering new works including Dominick Argento’s Casanova and Philip Glass’ The Civil Wars.
Well-known for her appearances in American opera, Gutknecht has sung four world, U.S. and New York premieres at the New York City Opera, including Dominick Argento’s Casanova, Carlisle Floyd’s Of Mice and Men, and Stanley Silverman’s Madame Adare. Her performances have been reviewed in more than 50 periodicals all over the world. She was also a National Finalist in the Metropolitan Opera Auditions and a grant recipient from the Martha Baird Rockefeller Fund for Music.
Gutknecht spoke about her career as a nationally known opera singer and music educator. She has performed in the New York City Opera, the Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Opera Company of Boston. She also was an associate professor of music at McGill University and at Randolph-Macon Woman’s College, and today is a vocal teacher and director.
“I’m thrilled to receive this award, most of all as a performing artist,” Gutknecht said. “There have been very few of us over the years who have received this award, despite many illustrious persons who have received it in other disciplines. It is an honor to be included.”
Edna Aguirre Rehbein ’77
Rehbein is fluent in English and Spanish and has taught courses for both languages. She is currently the vice president for academic affairs for the Texas State University Round Rock Campus, where she has helped enrollment grow from just 100 students in 1998 to more than 2,000 today.
Rehbein credited the College for giving her experiences that built her confidence and shaped her into the person she is today.
“I have received numerous recognitions and awards throughout my academic and my professional career, but this one has absolutely meant the most to me,” Rehbein said. “I know the caliber of recipients in the past, and I really never thought that I would be counted among that group of people, so it’s a huge honor to receive this recognition.”
Kakenya Ntaiya ’04
Ntaiya is the founder and president of Kakenya’s Dream and the Kakenya Center for Excellence, a boarding school for girls in her home village of Enoosean, Kenya. In 2013, she was named one of CNN’s Top 10 Heroes, earned the Global Women’s Right Award from the Feminist Majority Foundation, and was recognized by the Women of the World as a “Woman of Impact.”
Ntaiya has dedicated her life to educating girls and protecting them from harmful cultural traditions like childhood marriages and genital mutilation. She was a victim of the genital mutilation practice herself, but agreed to participate only so that her parents would allow her to continue her education.
“When I went through that cut, I knew that no other girl should ever have to experience that,” Ntaiya said. “I knew it should be stopped and knew that it was wrong, and knew that girls should not be getting married at 12 years old. I knew I needed to tell my story.”
She went on to become the first woman in her village to attend college, and now educates girls about their rights and helps them achieve educational goals that were previously unattainable. The Kakenya Center for Excellence continues to grow, and Ntaiya said one of her proudest moments was when one of the students met President Barack Obama during his visit to Kenya this summer.
During her time at Randolph-Macon Woman’s College, Ntaiya gained much more than a degree in international studies and political science. She made friends she considers sisters, and, thanks to the liberal arts curriculum, she received a well-rounded education and was taught to question the world around her–-something she now encourages her students to do at the Kakenya Center for Excellence.
“I created a space where girls can be curious and a place where they can be nurtured–-a place where they can be told that while society says ‘you will be a wife at 12,’ you are a child and have a dream, and you can achieve it,” she said. “Sometimes you have to go first to allow others to follow. I have gone first in the fight against genital mutilation and childhood marriages, but so many of you have followed in listening and helping to spread the message, and I thank you for that.”
At the conclusion of the ceremony, President Bradly W. Bateman congratulated each recipient on their accomplishments and thanked them for bringing distinction to the College.
“It is an honor to recognize Carol, Edna, and Kakenya with our Alumnae Achievement Awards,” he said. “Randolph College is a much better place because of your devoted support and commitment. You have made a difference here and in the world, and I thank you for the distinction you have brought to your College, for sharing in the heritage of Randolph-Macon Woman’s College, and for helping to make this a better College.”Tags: alumnae, alumnae accomplishments, alumnae achievement awards, alumnae council, carol shepard gutknecht, edna aguirre rehbein, kakenya ntaiya, outcomes, successful alumnae