Throughout her 28 years at William & Mary, Angela Leruth has worked tirelessly to be the kind of role model for her students that her teachers and professors were for her.

Those teachers “saw strengths in me that I didn’t know I had until they led me to uncover them,” said Leruth, senior lecturer of French & Francophone studies. “Since then, I have progressively understood as crucial the fact that the professors you have can change the course of your life.”

Leruth’s influence goes beyond the classroom. She has been instrumental as the university’s French language program coordinator the last 10 years, led efforts to mentor undergraduate teaching assistants and helped lead the department’s diversity & inclusion initiatives.

Leruth was recently recognized for her impact by winning W&M’s Shirley Aceto Award.

The Aceto Award is presented annually to a member of the instructional or professional faculty who demonstrates the exceptional commitment to excellence in service to the campus community. It is given in honor of Aceto’s years of dedicated service as a member of the professional faculty working in the Office of the Provost.

“I’m deeply honored to receive the Aceto Award,” said Leruth, who will be recognized during a reception March 30. “Shirley is an incredible role model to all of us as a person who gave a lifetime of exemplary service and untiring devotion to the university, its faculty, staff and students. I believe that her selflessness and generosity as well as her capacity to see the best in people are qualities that all of us should strive for.”

Katherine M. Kulick, emerita associate professor of French & Francophone studies and the 2011 Aceto Award winner, said Leruth’s “impressive record of dedicated service to the W&M community spans decades. Known for her boundless energy, her steadfast collegiality and an unrivaled work ethic — always with endless good nature — Angela clearly embodies the values and spirit of Shirley Aceto.”

Excellence in every area of service

Leruth joined the French & Francophone studies program in 1995 as an adjunct instructor and was promoted to senior lecturer in 2013. One of her nominators said she approaches everything she does with great care.

“She has absolutely excelled in each and every area of service that she has undertaken, always with good humor, good sense and outstanding collegiality,” said Department of Modern Languages & Literatures Chair Francie Cate-Arries.

Mona Zaki, senior lecturer of Arabic studies, said, “When you learn a language, you’re not fully aware of the possibilities. Just imagine a whole library opens up to you. … In all her classes, Angela puts these possibilities on your mental map.”

Former students noted Leruth’s welcoming disposition in their nominating letters.

“Under her kind direction, I felt like a sailboat guided through choppy waters by an unwavering wind; for, as Professor Leruth fostered an outward climate of belonging and respect, her behind-the-scenes leadership and organization provided a solid foundation for flourishing,” wrote Tristan Ramage ’21.

Leruth has also served as faculty advisor for the French House, a residential program in which an international fellow from a French-speaking country coordinates cultural activities for residents.

“The time and patience that this particular service job requires is astounding; the faculty advisor troubleshoots everything imaginable for our international guest employees,” Cate-Arries said. “Angela has served admirably in this demanding role over the years, assuring that what W&M students of French learn and experience about culture, history and current events — all from the residence halls of W&M — is relevant, engaging and enriching for their academic pursuits.”

Gentle, welcoming and understanding

Leruth also volunteered to serve on the Department of Modern and Languages Diversity & Inclusion Committee in 2021-2022.

Work on this committee led Leruth to an ongoing collaboration with Narrative 4, a global network of educators, students and artists who use art and storytelling to build empathy between people while equipping them to improve their communities and the world.

In addition to organizing a story exchange for faculty and students in her department with the help of Narrative 4 representatives, Leruth presented her service work with the organization at the American Association of Colleges and Universities international conference and is building an international network in the Francophone educational world that would apply the workshop’s methodologies at different institutional levels.

Her work helped pave the way for the February 2023 campus visit of Narrative 4’s co-founder, acclaimed author Colum McCann, to kick off the Arts & Sciences Diversity, Equity & Inclusion 2023 Spring Speaker Series. 

Leruth said it is important to be active in diversity, equity and inclusion efforts “because we all have experienced rejection and inadequacy to some degree: socially, economically, racially, ethnically or based on gender identity, sexual orientation and age or intergenerational gaps.”

“Because of my multicultural French and Italian background and experiences as a first-generation university student, and as a person who immigrated to the U.S. in her twenties, I have had to abandon the safe feeling of permanently belonging somewhere, while realizing that this feeling is an illusion for all of us,” Leruth said.

Leruth added that she thinks “we all have something in common with a central character in McCann’s 2009 novel, ‘Let the Great World Spin,’ the French tightrope walker Philippe Petit, who walked between the rooftops of the World Trade Center Twin Towers in 1974. Like Petit, we navigate life without safety nets and must find strength and grace in our vulnerability.”

Leruth fosters a sense of belonging with authenticity and compassion, said Ramage.

“Never at William & Mary did I meet another professor as kind and genuine as she,” Ramage wrote. “Her manner is gentle, welcoming, understanding: indeed, it is a remarkable asset for her as teacher and leader. As a TA in Professor Leruth’s program, I found myself driven not by fear of failure, nor by ambition to succeed, but by a desire to make her proud of my efforts. Simply by being herself, she encourages excellence and flourishing, since any earnest student would want to prove Professor Leruth’s unconditional kindness justified.”

, Communications Specialist