Student award winners reflect on their AU experience

AU honors graduates for their achievements both in and out of the classroom

Student award winners reflect on their AU experience

Visionary. Educated. Fearless. Confident. Empathetic. Teammate. Motivator.

While their personal definitions of leadership may differ, student award winners from the graduating class of 2016 all left their mark on the campus community and the city of Washington, D.C in everything from the arts to activism to athletics and more. AU honored and celebrated the accomplishments of 17 selected graduating students for their contributions and service at AU at a ceremony on May 6..

Tatiana Laing, a Communications, Law, Economics, and Government (CLEG) major, earned the President's Award for her academic work as well as her involvement with The Darkening, the Alternative Break program, the Summer Transition Enrichment Program (STEP), the Caribbean Circle and the Office of the Vice President for Campus Life. Liang said the Alternative Break program stands out as one of her greatest learning and leadership experiences because of the social justice focus and the opportunity to give back through service. The President’s award, AU’s highest undergraduate honor, recognized Laing for her four years of commitment on campus.

“I’d say the most rewarding part of my experience at AU is watching the changes that we advocate for actually happen,” Laing said. “People are starting to respond to what we are asking for.”

Inspired and guided by her faculty mentor Robert Johnson, Laing focused her senior capstone on African American women in the criminal justice system. In August, she will apply her work at AU to a job with Change Corps, an organization that focuses on community-orientated training and service around the country . Laing said she ultimately plans to go to law school and work towards a career as a criminal defense lawyer.

“My experience at AU with the advocacy that I’ve done helped me, but I don’t think anything will prepare me for my specific work that I will do with the organization,” Laing said regarding her job with the Corps. “But AU put me on the right path, prepared me for the long hours, how much work it’s going to be, and knowing how to take care of myself.”

Senior Matt Waskiewicz, who was recognized for Outstanding Service to the University Community, also credits his time at AU for helping him explore his interests and for challenging him mentally, physically and intellectually. As a student, Waskiewicz served as a Resident Assistant, editor of AU’s undergraduate research journal and president of the Student Honors Board, as well as participating in the Student Government. Waskiewicz will be traveling to Wales in September to study urban and regional development, and he hopes to bring lessons back from the UK that he can implement into policy in his home state of Massachusetts.

“Service to me is more of an idea that everything that you have is because of yourself, but also because of everyone else around you, so in turn you have, I believe, the obligation, to help those around you,” Waskiewicz said.

Amanda Molina joined Waskiewicz as another winner of the Outstanding Service Award, becoming the first Washington College of Law student to earn the distinction in four years.

Tofigh Maboudi, another graduate student, earned the Outstanding Scholarship Award, and he said his experience at AU transformed him from a shy, quiet student to a political scholar capable of inspiring others to learn and discover their own passions.

“The opportunity to teach and collaborate with my adviser and other colleagues at AU also shaped my perspective of the academia in general and convinced me to continue my career in the academia both as a teacher and as a scholar,” Maboudi said in an email. “And I am glad that this coming fall I will be an assistant professor of political science at Loyola University Chicago where I can pass my own experience to my students at Loyola.”

Chelsea Horne, who earned a Master in Fine Arts in May, was honored as a recipient of the Outstanding Scholarship Award for graduates as well, while Jake Nieb and Brian Hamel earned scholarship recognition at the undergraduate level.

In addition to the President’s Award and the Service and Scholarship Awards, AU also honored ten individuals with recognition for their leadership and commitment to the campus community.

Bahamian native and history major Toby McCarroll earned the Stafford H. Cassell award for leadership after demonstrating his commitment to others through his involvement on the AU varsity swim team and the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. McCarroll said he hopes future students at AU embrace the opportunities offered through the University and use those experiences to speak up and find their passions.

“Take in as much as you can,” McCarroll said. “Things I never expected I would know, I learned through my various experiences with professors and people in the University community, and I really think you should take advantage of those while taking advantage of the fact that you are in D.C., the nation’s capital.”

Nate Sundermeier, the winner of the Charles W. Van Way Award for community building, agreed with the importance of networking and learning, but he also emphasized the value of balancing hard work with fun and relaxing activities. When asked about his favorite classes at AU, Sundermeier cited both water aerobics and journalism ethics.

“I loved AU because there were so many different parts of AU that as time went on you just kept peeling back another layer, and meeting new people that have very distinct passions that are very unique to other students on campus,” Sundermeier said.

The Calton Savage Award and the Charles C. Glover Award went to Jennifer Zolla and Alya Shaiful Bahari, respectively, while Grant Conway picked up the Fletcher Scholar Award. AU also honored Haley Hawkins for the Catheryn Seckler-Hudson Award and Lex Loro for the Brue Hughes Award.

“That award [Lex] won is so perfect for her because she really is just so mature and really helped me grow my knowledge on a whole bunch of things,” Sundermeier said.

Dyani Brown, an SOC graduate like Loro and Sundermeier, earned the Harold Johnson Award for her commitment to strengthening the Native American community on campus, and she said she has three simple pieces of advice for future grads.

“Be realistic in what you can contribute, communicate when you have issues and make sure that you follow through on your commitment to that group before you move on to your own things,” Brown said.

Kaitlyn Mesic won the the Evelyn Swarthout Hayes Award, and Evie Unsworth won the Kinsman-Hunt Award. Unsworth, like Brown, urged AU students to discover their passions and explore things that they genuinely enjoy.

“Find your niche on campus -- whether it be greek life, a club, sports team, or leadership position,” Unsworth said in an email. “Find some place that keeps you connected to AU. Also, look for those individuals who can support you, push you to be a better person, and encourage you to enjoy yourself in the process.”

Never miss a story

Get our weekly newsletter delivered right to your inbox.

More from The Eagle