On January 9, 2023, Shanny Peer, Director of La Maison Française at Columbia University, was awarded the insignia of Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur by Jérémie Robert, the Consul General of France in New York, at the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in New York.
Gaëtan Bruel, Cultural Counselor of France to the United States and Director of Villa Albertine, began with introductory remarks:
Good evening ladies and gentlemen,
I am Gaëtan Bruel, Cultural Counselor of the French Embassy, and together with Consul general Jérémie Robert, it is my great pleasure to welcome you to Villa Albertine this evening, to honor Shanny Peer, Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres and now Chevalier de la Legion d’honneur.
Dear Shanny, we gather tonight to honor you with the highest civilian award issued by the French government, in recognition of the many ways in which you have contributed to the public policy dialogue with France and promoted French culture in the United States throughout your distinguished career as an academic, policy expert, and cultural leader as Director of the Maison Francaise at Columbia University.
In the words of your colleague, Madeleine Dobie, “very few people would be able to move so seamlessly and gracefully among the range of roles and tasks at which (you) excel … and make the Maison Française a warm and hospitable environment.” I can personally attest to this, as you were among those who first welcomed me to New York twelve years ago, when I came to Columbia University as a teaching fellow in 2011. Having participated in many activities at the Maison Française, and sitting now on its board, I can attest to your energy, your joie de vivre, and your kindness. Suffice to say, these qualities are what make the Maison Française so welcoming, so inspiring, and are what make us so happy to see you honored tonight.
I would like to extend our thanks to your numerous colleagues and supporters, family, and friends here tonight. It is our pleasure to join them in applauding your dedication to the Franco-American relationship. And it is now my special pleasure to give the floor to Consul General Robert to present you with this prestigious honor. Merci et bravo chère Shanny.
Jérémie Robert, Consul General of France in New York, thanked the Cultural Counselor for his remarks, and presented the insignia to Shanny Peer:
Good evening ladies and gentlemen,
Dear Shanny, Dear Gaetan,
It is a privilege and an immense pleasure for me to preside over this Legion of Honor ceremony, an incredibly special occasion, indeed, as we honor a friend of France and a champion of French Studies, Ms. Shanny Peer.
Dear Shanny, the award I have the honor of presenting you with today –the Legion of Honor – is France’s premier honorary distinction. Founded by Napoleon Bonaparte, it has recognized eminent accomplishments in service to France and the achievements that uphold France’s ideals for centuries. Among the ideals we hold most dear is the importance of culture, the arts, and education—an ideal that you, Shanny, have dedicated your career to upholding and defending.
A former colleague at New York University, Professor Edward Berenson, has spoken to your incredible accomplishments, remarking that “[It is] hard to think of anyone who has done more than Shanny Peer to bring the best of French culture to New York. For many years, she has created timely, important programs that add immeasurably to our understanding of contemporary France.” These words truly exemplify your lifelong dedication to strengthening the Franco-American relationship.
Throughout your career, you have demonstrated an impressive passion for the field of French Studies, constantly exploring different disciplines and innovative approaches to engage a wide variety of audiences with the French culture.
As an educator, you spent 10 years teaching 19th and 20th century French history, politics, culture, and society to your students at the University of Vermont and NYU, where you were the only non-tenured faculty member to receive a Golden Dozen Award for Excellence in Teaching in 1997. Your magnificent work with your students was paired with excellent scholarship, as you authored diverse scholarly articles and received numerous accolades, including the 1999 Laurence Wylie Prize for Best Book in French Studies for your work, “France on Display: Peasants, Provincials, and Folklore in the 1937 Paris World’s Fair.”
After a celebrated teaching career, you sought to explore French Studies through a new lens as Director of Policy Programs at the French-American Foundation, and more recently as Director of Columbia University’s Maison Francaise. At the French-American Foundation, you published several policy reports and directed comparative policy programs on French and American approaches to early childhood education, anti-discrimination policies, and work-family policy; testified before the Senate; and organized study tours to France for high-level delegations.
The creative programming and projects that you have undertaken at the Maison Francaise, including the Maison’s centennial celebration and major renovation, the broadcasting of a series of documentaries on immigration, a reenactment of Albert Camus’s 1947 speech, “La crise de l’homme,” performed by Viggo Mortensen, and your involvement in facilitating roundtable discussions during the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference in Paris, reflect your rich interests in and steadfast dedication to policy, academia, and art. Your immense curiosity and a capacity to be passionately inspired has led you to extraordinary undertakings in championing cross-cultural engagement through the arts, such as your efforts to bring the work of Cambodian artists and performers to the Maison Française following the Season of Cambodia Festival hosted in collaboration with the University of Paris – VIII. Despite the numerous challenges that the pandemic presented, you continued to display a persistent reserve to help members of the Maison Francaise stay connected to francophone culture by developing a rich virtual program, curating a weekly selection of podcasts, lectures, and films, under the rubric, “French culture chez vous.”
In all of these incredible efforts, the depth and breadth of your commitment to French-American cultural exchange is truly extraordinary. You have undoubtedly left a lasting impact on this city’s most reputable French institutions, shining a light on rich international collaboration between the French-speaking world and the United States.
I look forward to seeing how you will continue to weave your passion for French Studies into your future endeavors, especially as you learn more about climate change and work towards an M.A. in Climate and Society at Columbia’s Earth Institute.
In recognition of your commitment to global education, to scholarship, and to French-American cultural exchange, it is my privilege to honor you on behalf of the President of the French Republic.
Shanny Peer, au nom du Président de la République, nous vous remettons les insignes de Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur.