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Seniors receive student leadership awards

| Friday, May 15, 2015

Editor’s note: A shortened version of this article ran in April 20 print edition of The Observer.

Seven graduating seniors received awards from Notre Dame’s Division of Student Affairs at the annual Student Leadership Awards Banquet held March 31, according to a University press release.

FMB graphicBW copyKeri O'Mara | The Observer

The press release stated Student Affairs will also honor graduate student Aamir Ahmed Khan at the Graduate School Awards Ceremony on May 15.

“Humbled” was the descriptor of choice for students who received awards.

Senior Matthew Wong, who received the Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, C.S.C., Award, said he was “very surprised and honored and very humble for sure.”

This year’s recipient of the Ray Siegfried Award for Leadership Excellence, senior Megan Heeder, said she was “very humbled and grateful for the recognition that I’ve been somewhat successful in my desire to make a positive impact on the lives of other people here.”

According to the press release, each of the eight awards acknowledges particular leadership qualities in students “who have made exceptional contributions to the Notre Dame community.”

The Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, C.S.C., Award celebrates a senior who has promoted a spirit of diversity and inclusion during his or her time on campus and was awarded to Wong for his service as chair of the Diversity Council of Notre Dame, according to the press release.

“I think [this award] really shows that Notre Dame is putting diversity and inclusion at the forefront,” he said. “It’s acknowledging students who are taking steps to making Notre Dame more welcoming, regardless of socioeconomic background, race, gender, ethnicity — whatever it may be.”

Wong said the accomplishments of the Diversity Council — which include last year’s submission of a 10-point resolution containing recommendations on diversity to the administration — are the result of the combined efforts of the entire board.

“Without them, all of the stuff we’ve done as a council would have been impossible. There’s no way I could have carried all that weight by myself,” he said.

The Ray Siegfried Award for Leadership Excellence, presented to Heeder for her involvement in the Robinson Community Learning Center’s Youth Development AmeriCorps and the Center for Social Concern’s Summer Service Learning Program, honors a student who has demonstrated leadership, athletic ability and a love for the Catholic faith, according to the press release.

Heeder, who participated as a three-sport varsity athlete her freshman through junior years, said she was honored to receive the award because it acknowledged her “some degree of success in creating a positive change in the lives of other people.”

“Because if I leave here without doing that, then what was the point of being here at all?” she said.

The Mike Russo Spirit Award highlights a student’s service and personal character, and was given to former student body president Lauren Vidal for her efforts regarding campus safety, mental health awareness and community outreach, the press release stated.

“Having an opportunity to really listen to those around me and speak on their behalf in larger conversations about campus climate or need fueled my efforts each day,” Vidal said. “I learned that it is only when you follow the needs of your peers and school, when you put their needs first, that you truly lead in the role.”

The Rev. A. Leonard Collins, C.S.C., Award was presented to former student government chief of staff Juan Rangel for his dedication in serving the interests of the student body, according to the press release. Particularly, the award recognized Rangel’s commitment to increasing support for students of high financial need and undocumented students.

“I think, especially with us all being college students, it’s really easy to become individualistic and think about the needs and necessities that we ourselves have — we need to go to office hours, and we need to get good grades, and we need to find a job,” Rangel said. “But there’s so many concerns that we have ourselves, that we sometimes forget the concerns of others around us.”

Rangel, who served as the 2014-2015 Campus Ministry multicultural intern, also co-founded and became president of the Student Coalition for Immigration Advocacy in order to raise awareness about immigration issues and to stimulate outreach to undocumented students, he said.

“I feel so lucky to have met so many people on campus who have supported me through my crazy endeavors,” he said.

The Blessed Basil Moreau, C.S.C., Leadership Award, given to senior Grace Carroll for her work coordinating this year’s Campus Ministry Freshman Retreat, honors a student “who embodies Blessed Fr. Moreau’s vision of educating heart and mind, as well as someone who has demonstrated significant effort to advancing the Catholic character of the University,” the press release stated.

“I was really surprised to get the award, never expected to get it,” Carroll said. “I’m just doing what everyone around me is trying to do, and that’s just trying to be a better person every day.”

Carroll, also the Campus Ministry representative in student government, said she believes the freshman retreat and Campus Ministry are important to the campus community because they encourage students to reflect upon their daily lives.

“Our generation, often we find God in relationships, and we find God through service,” she said. “I think it’s really important that when we’re doing service, we’re remembering why we’re doing it, and I think in Campus Ministry, we’re trying to make that connection more intentional.”

The John W. Gardner Student Leadership Award recognized senior Christina Gutierrez for her commitment to service in the greater South Bend community, according to the press release. Gutierrez said she specifically received the award for her work volunteering and fundraising for the Monroe Park Grocery Cooperative in South Bend and for her service as president of the Notre Dame chapter of the World Hunger Coalition.

“I’ve been blessed to have free time and to have resources to provide to other people who need them more,” she said. “Getting to use that for a greater purpose and for an issue that’s really important to me — hunger and malnutrition and healthy eating — and getting to pair that up with meeting people from the South Bend community, I think is really cool.”

Gutierrez said she has been involved with the Monroe Park Grocery Cooperative since the end of her freshman year and that during her sophomore year, she directed a project to design and sell a calendar cookbook which raised nearly $5,000 for the cooperative.

“It’s a great sense of fulfillment knowing that you can engage in a community that you don’t necessarily live in, but that you’re still more broadly a part of,” she said.

The Denny Moore Award for Excellence in Journalism acknowledges a graduating senior who, according to the press release, exhibits exemplary character and writing ability.

The press release stated this year’s recipient, Jonathan Warren, was granted the award for his achievements as the former Editor-in-Chief of Scholastic and for his service as the public relations director for The Shirt Project.

“I think Notre Dame’s values, those of educating the whole person and serving others, values I’m told Denny Moore exemplified, really lend themselves to a meaningful education in journalism,” Warren said. “I’ve been grateful to work with other students, professors and mentors who have helped me to explore journalism as a practice of empathy and service to others.

“My role with Scholastic has allowed me to meet so many incredible people, and students in particular, whose stories have inspired me. … Ultimately, I owe so much to the writers, editors and our adviser, Bob Franken, for their help and for giving me the platform to try to deeply explore this campus.”

The Sister Jean Lenz, O.S.F., Leadership Award, to be presented to Khan for his accomplishments as the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 president of the Muslim Student Association, distinguishes a graduate student who promotes a welcoming and diverse atmosphere on campus, according to the press release.

“I was very overwhelmed,” Khan said, recalling the moment he learned he was to receive the award. “This is undoubtedly the biggest extracurricular recognition that I have ever received throughout my career.”

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