Chicago has more Nobel Peace Prize winners than any other city in the world. (We’ve had more Nobel Prize winners, period, than any city in the world.) Two of them -- Jane Addams and Charles Gates Dawes -- are dead. The one who isn’t dead won’t be coming home for the 12th World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates, which begins April 23 in Chicago.
Barack Obama’s name is missing from the list of laureates who’ll be visiting Chicago public schools on the first day of the summit. It’s a list that includes such big names at Mikhail Gorbachev, who won the Nobel Prize for dismantling the Soviet Union; F.W. de Klerk, who won for dismantling apartheid in South Africa; and Lech Walesa, who won for dismantling communism in Poland.
I think there are two reasons Obama isn’t coming back to Chicago. One, he’s busy being president. Two, winning the Nobel Peace Prize was about as important to him as winning a Grammy for reading Dreams From my Father. In both cases, they were prizes he received just for being Barack Obama, prizes that brought more attention to the giver than the recipient. The fact that he received the prize after less than a year in office, before he’d extricated the United States in Iraq. The Washington Post called it “an odd Nobel Peace Prize that almost makes you embarrassed for the honoree.” The Los Angeles Times wrote that “it’s hard to escape the impression that Obama was honored because he wasn’t George W. Bush.”
For many of the honorees who’ll be coming to Chicago, the Nobel Prize was a career-making honor. Mairead Corrigan Maguire was able to quit her job as a secretary for the Guinness Brewery after winning the prize for her efforts for peace in Northern Ireland. Jody Williams, whose International Committee to Ban Landmines started as a one-woman operation, parlayed the prize into a faculty position at the University of Houston. “Nobel Prize winner” is the most important line on their resumes. That’s not the case for Obama. Winning a Nobel Prize wasn’t even the most important thing that happened to him in 2009.
It would be nice to see Chicago’s most famous Nobel laureate back in his hometown. But we understand that for him, it’s no big deal.
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