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Last weekend, about 6,800 Spartans walked across the stage as the first wave of the Class of 2024. 

Aidan Binford was one of them. 

A much smaller cadre attended two ceremonies, earning their degrees as double majors. 

Again, Aidan Binford was there. 

But as a sea of green caps and gowns flowed through MSU, one Spartan stood apart.   

That Spartan was awarded the university’s highest student distinction.  The Richard Lee Featherstone Endowed Prize recognizes the “most outstanding graduating senior” of the year.   

This year the award went to Aidan Binford.  

Binford earned a Bachelor of Music in bassoon performance, and a second degree in journalism with a minor in documentary production. Binford had always been interested in many subjects and had taken many advanced placement courses at Dakota High School in Macomb Township.  So, when he arrived at MSU, Binford seized the opportunity to study more than one field.  

“I wasn’t 100 percent confident when I first started school as to exactly what I wanted to go into,” Binford said. “I felt like this left my options open for the future.” 

Music and journalism appealed to Binford in ways he can’t easily explain. 

“I think that music is something that just calls to the performer,” he said.  “I’m doing music because I love it.  Journalism came from a side of me that was very much concerned about the state of things, but who didn’t care for the confrontation that comes with politics.  I felt that journalism was more of a way to be objective and build more meaningful interactions with other people.” 

One of those interactions was with Geri Alumit Zeldes, Ph.D, Interim Associate Dean for Faculty and Academic Staff and Graduate Studies betboom dachaand Professor of Journalism.  She noticed Binford’s work ethic and leadership qualities during his time as lead editor of her recent documentary, “Missing Paige.”  Zeldes informed him that she wanted to nominate him for the Featherstone Prize and asked him to secure another nomination from the College of Music

“I have nothing but gratitude for Dr. Zeldes for pointing me in this direction,” Binford said.  “If it weren’t for her, I would not have received this (award).” 

For Binford, the recognition was less about his academic excellence than it was about something that can’t be learned in class: character. 

“I think I’ve always emphasized those other important elements of a college education beyond simply grade points,” said Binford.  “I’m proud of the grade point average I’m ending with, but it’s not the highest that (some) people are leaving Michigan State University with.  I had a lot of times early on in school when I struggled and was not working to my fullest.  I’ve grown to recognize the importance of leadership, of contributing to the school and to your peers.  Being a bridge builder, you know...someone who can bring people together.” 

Binford concedes he’s never felt like a leader in the sense of having a position with a formal title.  He views leadership by example as far more valuable.  During his time at MSU, Binford came to be known among his friends as a trusted confidant who readily helped others maintain their emotional well-being.   

It’s a feeling he himself knows well. 

“I feel very fortunate and blessed to be self-regulated today in a way that I was not at the start of college,” Binford said.  “That learning experience is something that I’ve been able to assist other people with.  Whenever there’s been someone struggling with some really heavy stuff, I’ve had people who’ve said, ‘Aidan is the person I want to talk to about this.’  I’m touched that they feel like I’m the person they trust most to help them handle betboom teamthose kinds of things.” 

As the recipient of the Featherstone Endowed Prize, Binford says the most profound feeling for him is reflection. 

“Earning the prize has led me to think about the steps that I took through college that led to the accomplishments that merited me this award,” he said. “The opportunities I had to lift people up through college were rewards. Coming to a better understanding of who I want to be through trial and error was a reward.  The journey that I took to receiving the prize was full of rewards along the way, and those mean the most to me.” 

Now, Binford is preparing for his next step.  He'll begin graduate school this fall at the University of Maryland, where he's accepted a teaching assistantship.  He'd like to become an educator, specializing in performance and musicology.

"While pursuing his music degree, Aidan displayed an unwavering commitment to musical exploration, creative expression and community engagement," said Michael Kroth, professor of bassoon and associate dean for undergraduate studies in the College of Music.  "He is a versatile and accomplished bassoonist who performed in some of our top ensembles, and he has shown a keen interest in music scholarship and research.  Aidan is most deserving of the Featherstone Prize, and I am excited for him as he moves on to his graduate studies."

His next phase of study will certainly be a change for Binford, who says he's never lived outside of Michigan. Still, he's savoring the excitement of a new experience.  As he looks to the horizon, Aidan Binford offers this advice to future Spartans to come.

 “Enjoy life,” he said. “Find yourself.  Don’t feel the strain to be entirely academically minded at every moment.  Just make sure you’re getting the entire experience out of college.  That’s going to make you an effective employee, an effective member of society or an effective family member or friend.  Everything that comes with being a person, you can enhance in this time while you’re in college.” 

By Kevin Lavery