Senior India Khanna was recognized as the winner of the Mavis McKenley ‘11 Award, an annual honor acknowledging commitment to valuing differences and bridging divides at a Jan. 18 commemoration ceremony celebrating the life, integrity, commitment to social justice and leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The ceremony was held at the Goode Fine and Performing Arts Center.
The ceremony began with President Scott D. Miller acknowledging the recent renaming of the award to honor alumna and Board of Trustees member Mavis McKenley ‘11. The award was previously titled, the MLK Jr. Day Award. McKenley is currently the Vice President and Trust Officer at AMG National Trust Bank, and is also certified as an Accredited Estate Planner (AEP), Certified Trust and Financial Advisor (CTFA) and a Certified Financial Planner (CFP).
As this year’s recipient, Khanna exemplified the same qualities to which both King and McKenley have been committed. Khanna, who goes by “they/she” pronouns, expressed that winning the award was a surprise. “I don’t know how many people applied, who applied or who nominated me,” Khanna said.
Director of Student Activities Sarah Guzzo was the speaker who presented Khanna with the award. “I knew it was me from when Sarah brought up Wesleyan Engaged. No one else is in that office as much as I am,” Khanna said. That suspicion only grew the more Guzzo talked. “It was very nice and exciting, me and my mom were watching it and we were just freaking out,” Khanna said.
“Not many of my family members know that I am very vocal on campus,” Khanna said. Despite having a great motivation and passion for being everywhere, Khanna doesn’t talk about it much. A Facebook post from Khanna’s mother put out the news to many friends and family that Khanna won the award and is involved in many campus groups. “People were really excited and they were saying words like, ‘Wow, I didn’t know you were doing all this stuff.’ They also were watching the campus streaming, and reading the story that the university made that day on its website,” Khanna said.
However, that inspiration to do something on campus was not there from the first moment. Despite having been in all kinds of social groups since high school, when Khanna started college, the goal was just to take classes and go back to the dorms. “When I first came to college, I didn’t want to know anybody. All the friends that I have, I made by accident, but I am here now,” Khanna said.
Khanna is involved in many campus organizations such as Spectrum, Caribbean Student Association, Planned Parenthood Generation Action, the President’s Council for Inclusive Communities, Black Student Union, Debate and Student Diversity Board. All these groups have served as great experiences and lessons throughout the years.
“I have definitely learned that you cannot treat everyone the same, and by this I mean that I have acknowledged that not everyone has come from the same place,” Khanna said. “Since I’ve been here and I’ve been talking to all these different people, I’ve kinda learned that sometimes people are not intentionally ignorant or discriminatory. They just either never have been corrected or have no idea of the outside world.” Khanna expressed that this was one of the biggest lessons; now, Khanna has overcome situations with other people by acknowledging that they are not the same.
“There have been some changes since I started in these groups; how I speak, what I’m saying, where I’m going and how I perceive things. However, I have been doing all this kind of stuff since high school, so the recognition is nice, but even if I didn’t get it and it went to another student or whoever, I still would’ve continued to do what I want to do,” Khanna said.
One of the speakers for that virtual commemoration was Associate Director of the Robert Nusbaum Center Kelly Jackson. She was the one in charge of presenting Rev. Dr. Melvin Blackwell, who was the closing speaker for the virtual ceremony. According to Jackson, over 200 people were connected to the live stream. “If over 200 people watched it live, that’s more than we could ever have in the auditorium even before COVID,” Jackson said. She expressed that the event was produced in advance and even though it was a successful event, because of the pandemic, you didn’t get that feeling of community.
Jackson also expressed her thoughts regarding the Mavis McKenley award by encouraging Khanna to carry on staying involved. “I have known India for several years. [Khanna] is a phenomenal student that reaches out to opportunities, is eager to learn and… wants to give back to the community,” Jackson said.
Steven Serrano Cruz