In 2012 Andrew Suozzo (professor, Department of Modern Languages) was awarded the Ordre des Palmes Académiques by the French government, a recognition reserved for champions of French culture. The Palmes was created by Napoleon in the early 19th century; until 1866 the honor was given only to French citizens.
An unabashed Francophile, Suozzo was given the title officier. The Ordre des Palmes Académiques has three grades: commandeur (commander), officier (officer), and chevalier (knight). In 2012, France recognized only four officers and 30 knights (but no commanders) in the United States. So, Suozzo finds himself in elite company.
“In theory, the award thanks me for a lifetime of promoting the study of French language, literature, and culture,” he says. “In the past 31 years at DePaul, I’ve taught every area and aspect of French culture; I started the first French study abroad program; and twice I won first prize for “best article about French pedagogy” from The French Review. But, of course, I never worked with the intention of getting the Palmes! I’m expressing my debt of gratitude to the French government by developing a new class, “France and the French-speaking world in Chicago.”
Suozzo was nominated by Jean-François Rochard, Chicago’s deputy cultural attaché, a friend of DePaul who has worked with Andrew on many occasions.
“DePaul is a welcoming place for French people ‘on mission’— that is, sent by Le Ministère de la Culture to universities around the world,” say Suozzo.
“We have a long history of working with the cultural attaché to bring major French speakers, cultural critics, and writers to the city and the campus. In fact, we host two or three major events each year. Everyone benefits: the guest gets a solid audience that understands French, and our students get an encounter with an individual of genuine distinction. I went to a fine school for my undergraduate education, but French writers and playwrights never visited the campus and discussed their works. Students at DePaul are guaranteed an opportunity to encounter a French luminary.”
The award ceremony was held at DePaul: “I was very touched. Around 60 colleagues came, Dr. Pascale-Anne Brault gave a gracious speech, the president and the dean of the college made very kind remarks, the counsel general spoke warmly – at that point I was ready to run away! I’m not use to being praised at great length. It was very moving. And I liked getting the award here, rather than in Paris, because this is the theater where I earned it.”
The way Suozzo found out about the award was a total surprise.
“I was at a reception of the Alliance Française for Quebec’s celebration of the feast of St. John the Baptist. The day before, I had received a notice asking me to subscribe to the Journal of the Palmes Académiques, which is sent to winners of the award – as far as I knew, I was not among their number. I thought to myself, ‘I better check on this.’ But, while I was at the reception, one of the staff from the consulate general asked me if I’d received the award announcement notice. So, that’s how I got the news.”
Suozzo has been part of the DePaul faculty for 31 years.