Evanstonian Ben Wolf recalls impactful years at ETHS

Every year, ETHS honors alums who have made an impact on their communities, both while at ETHS and later in their lives. The Distinguished Alumni Award is given to members of different graduating classes, honoring their achievements and reflecting on the impact ETHS has had on their lives. This year, the award ceremony was held on Jan. 31, where seven alumni members were presented with the award. Evelyn Alexander, Class of 1954, Coleman Brown, Class of 1952 and Lenora Moragne, Class of 1950, were honored posthumously. Michael Arrington, Richard Pildes, Robin Rue Simmons and Ben Wolf received the award and spoke to community members and students about the impact ETHS has had on their careers and lives. The Evanstonian was privileged to speak to Arrington, Pildes, Simmons, and Wolf about their experiences receiving this distinguished award.

Ben Wolf, a long-time Evanstonian and ETHS alum from the class of 1971, was recently given a distinguished alumni award at a ceremony honoring him and six other ETHS alums. Wolf and the other honorees were awarded for their contributions to ETHS and the Evanston community. Looking back on his experience, Wolf fondly recalled the lasting bonds he formed as well as the influence ETHS had on his endeavors after he graduated. 

“There are two things that stand out in my mind. One is the lifelong friendships, I made my closest friends at ETHS, [they] are still most of my closest friends,” Wolf explained. “I appreciated that I had some really spectacular teachers who somehow knew how to reach out to me and other students who were a little rebellious or immature, and still help us learn a lot and [they] helped us become better thinkers and better people.”

While a student at ETHS, Wolf was an avid member of the debate club, participating for all four years of his high school career. Wolf drew parallels between his time in the debate club to his current passion: advocating for justice in court.

“I enjoyed it, [the] clash of ideas, being forced to take both sides of an issue. And I enjoyed the friendships. I think it gave me a sense that I might be someone who is good at standing up in court and advocating for clients, and thinking about what was what just made sense… I enjoyed that kind of thinking,” Wolf recalled. “I think ETHS was a good experience for me to just begin to see the world.”

Following his time as a student at ETHS, Wolf went on to become a lawyer for the ACLU, advocating for justice in Illinois for over 36 years. As a lawyer, Wolf worked to defend civil rights, a passion he attributes to the lessons he learned from teachers and coaches at ETHS. 

“I just retired after working as a lawyer for 36 years at the American Civil Liberties Union, which is one of the oldest civil rights organizations in the United States,” Wolf said. “We represent kind of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and the civil rights laws, and we advocate for the rights of vulnerable people and people with unpopular views and people of color and people in prison people in government custody.”

While working for the Illinois ACLU, Wolf continued living in Evanston, sending both of his children to ETHS. Both through his time as an ETHS student and parent, Wolf has been able to witness the uniqueness of Evanston and the changes that have taken place.

“I think the diversity of ETHS and the size of the different things going on at ETHS are remarkable. Just being there, you can learn a lot. You know, we still have a long way to go with achieving real integration and fairness, but it’s much better than most high schools in terms of exposing you to lots of different cultures and lots of different world experiences from fellow students and even from teachers… I think that [ETHS] helped me [in how] I represented most of my clients who [are] people of color, many of them were people that didn’t have a lot of money,” Wolf reflected.

At the distinguished alumni awards ceremony, Wolf, along with the other awardees, spoke of their time as students and their accomplishments. As part of the presentation, Wolf was able to speak about the impact ETHS had on his life, and his impactful career as a lawyer. In addition to speaking about his own experiences and memories, Wolf appreciated sharing the experience with his former peers.

“I think the thing that most moved me about it was seeing some of the other awardees, and hearing about them… You learn as much from your peers as you do from the teachers and the books. And they’re all important,” Wolf explained.