DCD’s first Alumni Award has been presented to well-known author, scientist, animal activist, and expert in autism Temple Grandin ’59. Alumni Association president Erin Keith Epker ’86 made the announcement at the Thrive: A Celebration of Alumni event on May 3, 2013.
Initiated in 2012 by the newly formed Alumni Association, the Alumni Award will be presented annually to a DCD alumnus/a whose significant accomplishments or extraordinary service to others in his or her chosen field exemplify the school’s mission.
In a book of memories collected by her classmate and friend Eleanor Motley Richardson to commemorate their 50th reunion, Temple wrote, “One of my best memories of my days at DCD was when you and I made caveman tools. The assignment was to make them using no modern materials. I had a hard time fastening a rock to the end of a stick.” Temple also wrote of the time she and Eleanor managed to get out of cooking class to take shop instead with Mr. Patriarca, a class usually offered exclusively to the boys.
Who could have imagined then that Temple, who was eventually diagnosed as autistic, would go on to invent complex systems for processing cattle that have revolutionized the meat industry and that the story of her life would become the subject of an HBO special starring award-winning Hollywood actress Claire Danes?
Temple turned a diagnosis of autism into a gift, one that has improved the life of animals—and humans— around the world. To deal with the emotional struggles brought on by her autism, she constructed a squeezing machine to calm herself. Later on in life, Temple created a more humane method for processing cattle that uses the same type of compression to relax animals before procedures. She also invented a system for moving cattle being led to slaughter that prevents them from becoming overly anxious during the process and is now used in more than half the slaughterhouses in the United States and Canada. She has consulted for Wendy’s and McDonald’s, companies that now insist their suppliers treat animals more humanely because of her influence.
Temple has written a number of books, including a memoir, Thinking in Pictures, as well as Animals in Translation, and Animals Make Us Human, all of which made the New York Times bestseller list. Her books have helped increase understanding and awareness of autism, and the story of her life has become a source of inspiration to many.
When Temple returned to campus on April 25, 2012, to give a talk promoting autism awareness month and celebrating the publication of her biography by Sy Montgomery, Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World, Head of School Nick Thacher introduced her to the audience of more than four hundred gathered in the Rand Gym as embodying the DCD mission:
“Temple’s remarkable life and accomplishments speak directly to DCD’s avowed mission of inspiring children ‘to become caring, ethical members of the larger world by emphasizing thoughtful citizenship and respect for self and others.’”