Palmes Académiques Medal Ceremony Honoring Four Educators from Connecticut

June 25, 2013 | By French Culture

Four remarkable educators deeply passionate about international collaboration received the insignia of the Ordre des Palmes Académiques on June 18th in a ceremony held at Yale University that was co-hosted by French Cultural Counselor Antonin Baudry and Ian Shapiro, director of Yale's MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies.  An award of the French Minister of Education, the Palmes honored Karen de Fur, Ruth G. Koizim, Gail McKenna, and Nancy L. Ruther, all of whom have met the educational challenges of today with intelligence, courage, and a spirit of adventure. The Cultural Services of the French Embassy is proud to celebrate the far-reaching efforts of these educators from Connecticut. At the ceremony, Antonin Baudry addressed the four honorees with the following speech.


Dear friends,

I thank the MacMillan Center for co-hosting this event with us and Yale's Deputy Provosts, Lloyd Suttle and Emily Bakemeier for their support.

Dear honorees,

I thought of several words to qualify your achievements. Dedication, of course. Hard work, passion. But one other word remains in my mind, even if it seems a little strange when it comes to education. This word is “bravery”. Actually it is not such an inappropriate word. On the contrary, I believe that education always requires some bravery.

The Palmes Académiques were founded to give back to the men and women who spend their lives teaching how to think for oneself and to open one’s mind to culture. France is a country that truly admires their work. It’s at the core of the French social contract, since the origins and especially the Revolution. In our fight to promote culture at the French Embassy, education is our best ally and therefore our priority. But the promotion of French culture would be vain, if only the happy few could have access. That’s why I want to pay tribute to each and everyone who is dedicated to education in this country.

Within education, learning languages is essential. I believe that nothing, not even the highest performing machine, could ever replace the vivid and deeply human experience of both teaching and opening one’s mind to another culture.

That is why tonight I want to especially thank these four exceptional women, for their dedication, hard work and… bravery.

Now we will proceed with the ceremony by alphabetical order.


  1. Karen de Fur

Chère Karen de Fur,

It’s an honor for me to bestow on you the Palmes Académiques. France is particularly grateful to you. And to your family.

Your father, Sidney Griffith, is a WWII veteran. He was one of these brave young American soldiers on the beaches of Normandy who fought for the Liberation of France. In 2008 he received the “Thank-you-America Certificate”. His bravery will never be forgotten. And you may happen to know that today is the 18th of June, a very symbolic date for France. In 1940, “l’appel du 18 juin” by Charles De Gaulle was an appeal for struggle and resistance. On such a special day, on behalf of France I want to express to your father once again our deep, profound and everlasting gratitude.

Dear Karen,

Your family also fought another battle. This battle is education, and it is the career path you chose to pursue. Your mother was very dedicated to her teaching and you decided to carry on the family tradition! You obtained an Education degree in Educational Leadership at the Southern Connecticut State University, and a degree in French at Fairfield. You even spent your senior year at the University of Strasbourg! Why did you go so far? Because you know that learning languages is about learning a culture: it is an experience that has no equivalent. For 23 years, you have been teaching foreign languages and spreading your passion for learning to hundreds of students.

But in the struggle for education, you are a particularly well-equipped soldier. Among your numerous weapons, I would like to insist on a specific one. In September 2011, you created with the French Embassy, and with the help of Fabrice Jaumont, the first immersion program in French in New Haven. Like you, we strongly believe in the powers of bilingualism. It helps children to develop skill sets that are transformative and life changing. It is not just about words, but about experiencing a new worldview and a creative way of thinking. That is why your achievement is so important to us. We do hope that many other programs alike will blossom in Connecticut.

Chère Karen, you are indeed a strong advocate for language instruction in your state: for six years you have been the Supervisor of World Languages for the New Haven Public School District, which is the largest foreign language department in the State of Connecticut. You joined the faculty of the Quinnipiac Graduate School of Education as an adjunct professor in 2009 and teach a methods course entitled “Teaching a World Language”. Thank you for creating tomorrow’s ambassadors for peace, mutual understanding and multilingualism through education and languages.                

You spread with an incredible enthusiasm your passion for foreign languages. You are a dear friend of France. Therefore, I am very glad to confer on you the insignia of Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques.

Karen de Fur, au nom du gouvernement français je vous fais Chevalier dans l’ordre des Palmes Académiques.


Ruth Koizim

I’m sure you will not mind if I begin this speech in your honour with a quote from Elsa Triolet. She is a writer dear to you and to France.

« Être bilingue, c’est comme être bigame. Mais quel est celui que je trompe ? » (Being bilingual is like being a bigamist. But who is the one I am cheating on?)

Dear Ruth Koizim,

I dare say, and I hope I am not too bold or out of line, but the country with whom you are having an affair… it’s France.

Like you, Elsa fell in love with France. And you both had to learn one of the most difficult languages in the world… Well, I think English is quite tricky too, as you can hear from my accent. I heard that your uncle, who used to live and work in France, once sent you a card from Nice that said: “To a nice niece on her birthday – postmarked Nice, France.” Niece, nice, Nice: yes, learning foreign languages can be challenging but you were very brave!

And you did it! You became a Lecturer in French at Yale University, the best university in the world where you have taught since 1982. Your passion for France is so contagious that today, the first study abroad destination for “Yalies” after English-speaking countries is France. And I’m sure you will not sleep a wink until that order is reversed!

We cherish your dedication and enthusiasm. And I say this both as a cultural counselor and as a citizen. It is our mission at the Embassy to promote French language in your country and I personally do believe that cultural understanding is the first key to our transatlantic friendship. We are truly grateful to you for inspiring and instilling in others the same desire to embrace other cultures.

But your loyalty to the French language extends beyond Yale as you have taught at Harvard and, since 1976, at many other prestigious universities in New England. You also contributed to the success of numerous associations such as the American Association of Teachers of French and the Alliance Française of New Haven, which both are instrumental in promoting French language.

Dear Ruth, what is most remarkable among all your achievements is your constant involvement with your students and how you encourage them to experience study abroad programs. You know that these travels can change students’ lives and give them the richest French immersion familiarity. To this end, you sit on the jury of the Fulbright Fellowships, the most prestigious fellowship in the world for study abroad. You nurture the next generation of Francophiles and French lovers!

You are as dedicated to learning as you are to teaching. You truly embody the ideals of the Palmes Académiques which I am especially happy and proud to confer on you.

Ruth Koizim, au nom du gouvernement français je vous fais Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques.


  1. Gail McKenna

Dear Gail,

I’m particularly pleased to honor you tonight. Because you are a very special kind of teacher. I dare say you are an adventurer.

Where did your adventures begin? In France of course. As a young girl in high school, you were not fond of your French teacher, a Mademoiselle Bourque. But, like all true adventurers, you decided to see beyond your first impressions. “Les voyages ouvrent l’esprit” as we say in French.

So you went to France, with your favorite fellow adventurer, your husband Ray, who is with us tonight. While in Paris, you got lost in the Marais and displayed your adventurous bravery by asking for directions from a local “boulangère”, even if your French – perhaps Mademoiselle Bourque’s fault!- was not as perfect as it is today.

From this experience, you realized that French people were not so bad, since the boulangère, through a combination of gestures and a Franco-English dialect, pointed you in the right direction, both geographically and spiritually: the love for France.

Later you continued your French adventures at the University of Connecticut, where you obtained an undergraduate degree in French. Maybe Mademoiselle Bourque did some good?

But the boulangère episode had left an indelible mark in your mind, and you were determined to improve your spoken French.

And so, you moved to Rouen where you acted as a liaison between American students interested in teaching and French schools. There you began yet another adventure: the adventure of your friendship with Catherine, an English teacher. During your stay in Rouen in the French “roaring seventies,” Catherine invited you to a party at her home. Once again you showed your adventurous spirit, accepting without hesitation, and made a lifelong friend.

At the end of the year, you and your fellow adventurer Ray, bicycled 1600 miles through France, camping and drinking wine. Bicycle, wine? You sound more French than most French people!

But very soon after, you found another passion… yes still linked to France! In 1979, you began your career at South Windsor High School where you taught French with true dedication for 33 years! You created a partnership between South Windsor High School and the Lycée Jeanne d’Arc in Montaigu. Because you are part of a special group, with Ruth, Nancy and Karen here with us tonight, who believe that learning a foreign language is an adventure, an asset and a life changing experience.

Thanks to you, thousands of friendships were created between the students of our two countries. This is particularly dear to us, because our mission, at the French Embassy, is precisely to encourage such transatlantic friendships and even love – sometimes remotely.

But this was not the end of your adventures. You decided to plunge into “the depths of the Unknown to find something new”, as Baudelaire’s poem states.

What was the “Unknown” in your case? It was the Internet. You believed that language must be taught interactively and thus, obtained a second master’s degree in Educational Computing! You completely transformed your approach to education. As a result, Apple has recognized you as a “Distinguished Educator” and your blog for your French 5 class is a huge success. You are, without a doubt, the most “à la page” French teacher in the United States!

Gail McKenna, au nom du gouvernement français, je vous fais Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques.


  1. Nancy Ruther

Chère Nancy,

You’re the last honoree tonight but surely not the least!

I hope you will not take it as an offense if I say that you are our most enduring partner. Indeed, you have been with us since the beginning. Thanks to your dazzling leadership skills, your commitment and your energy, you have become a very precious ally for France and a friend we can always trust.

In 2002, you played a capital part in the establishment of the first educative cooperation between the Toulouse Académie, the Department of Education of Connecticut and Yale.

To us, this is an historical milestone. In our struggle for the creation of bonds between our two educative systems, this agreement was hugely important. The Yale Center for the Teaching of French has served hundreds of teachers in New Haven, throughout Connecticut, and in many other parts of the country.

Indeed, you are particularly important in your state, but your achievements have also a global impact. Allow me to develop two specific examples which illustrate your twofold mission. You have been particularly active with a New Haven French immersion school, King Robinson and, you too, worked closely with Fabrice Jaumont.  We were quite impressed that even the kindergarten and 1st grade students were in bilingual classrooms! You know that immersion at a very young age is one of our core priorities. 

But most of all, with The MacMillan Center, you have contributed to the ideal of a global and intercultural education. The MacMillan Center brought more than seventy-five scholars each year from different disciplines and numerous countries to join the Yale community. It enables students to spend time abroad so they can share their research and classes with their foreign counterparts. You have also greatly contributed to the development of international faculty exchanges. Concerning France, thanks to your overwhelming voluntarism, institutional relationships with Sciences Po and EHESS have deeply increased.

Dear Nancy, our work together is more than a simple collaboration: we share the same ideals. We both promote global and interdisciplinary research.

And what is, truly, most remarkable with you is your constancy and your unwavering involvement.

Dear Nancy, for your incredible and enduring contribution to the transatlantic bond that unites our two countries, it is a great honor for me to bestow on you this insignia. Tonight, we recognize your extraordinary contribution to education and academic partnerships.  With this medal we honor a truly exceptional leader and express our gratitude to a long time friend of France.

Nancy Ruther, au nom du gouvernement français, je vous fais Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques.


About the Honorees

Karen de Fur is Supervisor of World Languages for the New Haven Public School District and thus directs the largest foreign language department in the State of Connecticut.   Before assuming this position, Dr. de Fur had been a French teacher for 23 years, and had also taught ESL and Spanish. 

With support from the French Embassy, colleagues at Yale and the New Haven Board of Education, Dr. de Fur established the first Public French Immersion School in Connecticut at King Robinson Inter-district Magnet School: an IB World School.
 
In addition to her role as Supervisor of World Languages, Dr. de Fur has been an adjunct professor at Quinnipiac Graduate School of Education since 2009.
 
Dr. de Fur has been the recipient of commendations such as the TAPS Award for Distinguished School Service by the NHPS in 2000.  The Palmes Académiques award recognizes, in particular, her advocacy for language instruction and her success in promoting the French language throughout her career.

Ruth G. Koizim has taught French at Harvard and Yale, receiving awards at both schools for teaching excellence; she is at present Senior Lector at Yale where she has spent the majority of her career.  In addition to teaching French, Ms. Koizim is a mentor and teacher trainer; she has also coordinated proficiency and placement testing in French, and been an advisor on study and work opportunities in Francophone countries.  
 
Ruth G. Koizim is currently working with a French journalist on a book project exploring motivations for the study of French as a Foreign Language.
 
The award of the Palmes Academiques recognizes Ms. Koizim’s remarkable teaching expertise as well as her ability to transmit both knowledge and passion for her subject areas to the variety of scholars she mentors.

Gail McKenna has led a distinguished career as a high school teacher of French at South Windsor High School in South Windsor, CT.  During her thirty plus years as a teacher, Mrs. McKenna regularly organized student travel programs, including a 10-year exchange with the Lycée Jeanne d’Arc in Montaigu.   As the Internet developed, she seized upon its educational opportunities as an effective means of fostering language learning as well as encouraging the global awareness offered by immersion in a foreign language and culture. 
 
From 2002 – 2012, Mrs. McKenna also held the position of Educational Technology Facilitator at South Windsor High School. 
 
In 2007, Gail McKenna was named an “Apple Distinguished Educator” for expertise in educational technology leadership, passionate advocacy for the use of technology in instruction and for providing expert assistance and best practices to peers and policy-makers. 
 
Gail McKenna
is being recognized with the Palmes Académiques award for the innovation and dedication shown throughout her flourishing career as a French teacher and for her commitment to fostering global understanding in young people both here and abroad.
 
After retiring from South Windsor High School last year, Mrs. McKenna has become Technology Integration Specialist and Course Designer at Bay Path College, in Longmeadow, MA. 

Nancy L. Ruther has served as Associate Director of the The MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies since 1988 and as Lecturer in Political Science at Yale University since 1994. From 1981-88, she served as Associate Professor and Associate Director of the Institute of Public Service International at the University of Connecticut. She began her career as a foreign service officer with the U.S. Agency for International Development serving in La Paz, Bolivia.
 
Dr. Ruther was a key player in the development of a high-level agreement between the School District of Toulouse (Académie de Toulouse), the Department of Education of the State of Connecticut and the French Embassy, an accord which supports the creation of innovative projects between the US and France.
 
Dr. Ruther’s longstanding research interest is the interaction of federal policy and the international capacity of the U.S. higher education system.  In 2006, she completed a background study for the National Academy of Sciences on the HEA Title VI and Fulbright Hayes programs. Her monograph, U.S. Government and Higher Education:  Bridging the Gap in International Expertise, was published as a MacMillan Center Working Paper. 
 
At Yale, Dr. Ruther serves on numerous campus committees related to international, area and language studies, degrees and programs and backstops HEA Title VI grants at the MacMillan Center. She represents Yale with the Association of Professional Schools of International Affairs and served on the Group of Advisors of the National Security Education Program from its inception to 1998, for four years.
 
Dr. Ruther has served on several non-profit boards including Strategies for International Development, based in La Paz, Bolivia and Washington, D.C. (1996-present). 
 
This Palmes Academiques award underscores the breadth of Dr. Ruther’s contribution to global education and her unwavering commitment to French-American academic exchanges.


The Ordre des Palmes Academiques originated with Napoleon Bonaparte.  A brilliant administrator, Napoleon appreciated the importance of education.  By the decree of March 17, 1808, he established the honorary titles of Titulaire, Officier de l'Universite, and Officier d'Académie as awards for devotion and accomplishment in the areas of teaching scholarship, and research.  Whether in the arts or the sciences, these distinctions have been a cherished award for over two hundred years.  The form of the award has undergone changes, as has the organization which administers it.  The greatest change in the history of the Palmes took place in recent times.  In 1955, the Palmes Universitaires was officially raised to the status of a ministerial order.   Three ranks were provided:  Commandeur, Officier, and Chevalier.
 

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