by Lynette Clemetson ’10
After 19 years of working with journalists eager to define the next bold steps in their careers, Birgit Rieck, our beloved Associate Director of the Knight-Wallace Fellowships, has decided to embark on a bold new journey for herself. She’s leaving Wallace House to reconnect with her life back in Germany and to pursue new possibilities for her abundant skills. Her last day with us will be Friday, August 23.
It’s difficult to imagine Wallace House without Birgit. For hundreds of people who have walked through our doors, myself included, she has been an essential part of the Wallace House experience, a vital point of contact who made everything possible. Far beyond the planning of seminars, workshops and international travel, Birgit – with her infectious laugh and infallible German efficiency – created much of the warmth and welcome of the special atmosphere here.
Her fingerprints and sensibility dot every facet of our Wallace House programs, from the aesthetic beauty of the Hovey Lecture in the back garden, to the renovation of the Wallace House library and creation of our editing suite, to the hands-on fellowship workshops on writing, editing and audio/visual storytelling. She has been a friend, mentor, travel companion and confidant to countless journalists who have entrusted us with a year of their lives.
Birgit joined the Wallace House staff in 2000 to manage the Livingston Awards for Young Journalists and in 2004 changed positions to manage the Knight-Wallace Fellowships.
Before coming to Michigan, Birgit studied anthropology (Latin American studies) and English literature at the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-University in Bonn. She was awarded a Master’s degree in cultural anthropology (African studies) and education from Johannes-Gutenberg-University in Mainz after completing fieldwork in Uganda and Rome. This fall, she will complete the Media Transformation Challenge, a one-year executive leadership program at Harvard’s Kennedy School.
As the associate director of the program, she managed daily activities and herded unruly groups of fellows on outings from Flint to Istanbul. She enlivened our intellectual pursuits with pop-up tango lessons, wine tastings and horseback riding. She made the hard work and small details of the fellowship look effortless. She could be laughing at a Thursday night dinner, quietly slip away to arrange group flights for 25 (with multiple return dates!), then be back downstairs for a toast and dessert, without breaking a sweat.
Anyone who has been part of the Knight-Wallace Fellowship knows the transformative power of stepping back to evaluate your career, your dreams and your aspirations. In life there are sometimes moments of clarity when you know it is time for something new, even if you’re not quite certain yet what it is. It is part of our driving philosophy at Wallace House to honor those moments and to respond seriously to the possibilities they present. Those leaps take guts, belief and heart – all traits Birgit possesses in abundance. Though we truly cannot fathom the place without her, we know that wonderful surprises await.
To state the obvious, Birgit is irreplaceable. We will not be filling her position any time soon. Instead I will use the next year to evaluate the best structure for Wallace House moving forward. We have a Knight-Wallace Reunion coming up in September 2020. Birgit has agreed to come back then, so we can have a spectacular party and aptly celebrate all she has meant to us.
Lynette Clemetson is Director of Wallace House. She was a 2010 Knight-Wallace Fellow. You can reach her at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @lclemetson