One of my favorite moments of the ENR year is calling the Top 25 Newsmakers to the stage for a group photo after announcing publicly for the first time the individual selected as the Award of Excellence winner.

The Newsmakers, chosen by the editors based on stories published in 2016, promoted innovation and diversity, completed missions against the odds, tirelessly campaigned for needed change and devised solutions to larger-than-life problems. You can read more about their stories in the Jan. 23 edition of ENR.

Marc Edwards, named ENR’s 2017 Award of Excellence Winner for fighting for water safety in Flint, Mich., and beyond and for sounding the alarm when necessary, took the stage at our gala in New York City on April 13. He talked to the audience about what his team did in Flint, but he spoke even more about engineering ethics in a “world of cynicism.” 

The people the world does not change are those destined to change the world, he said, adding, “That [notion] was the essence of a team who heard cries of pain in Flint from 550 miles away. … In a million years they never expected that someone would do what we did, and they were right, but we did it anyway.” In the end, the governor apologized, “thanked us for exposing environmental crimes and hired us to help get it fixed,” he said. “More than a half-billion dollars was raised to help Flint residents with the relief effort, and in a million years that never happens either, but it did. Indeed, fate favors the brave.”

Edwards quoted Winston Churchill, who, at the end of World War II and after Great Britain’s “finest hour,” famously said, “We want a lot of engineers in the modern world, but we do not want a world of engineers.” Edwards continued, “Churchill was calling on engineers to learn wisdom as well as a career, so we could remain morally grounded and socially relevant.”

Edwards said he for one “cannot live in a world where engineers do not help bend the arc of history toward justice.” He called the current “public backlash” against engineers predictable “because too many of us betray the public trust.” In the future, he added, “when engineers have to burn bridges to protect the public, … let us resolve to say … ‘Now that—that was an engineer’s finest hour.’ ”