Accomplished seniors share their most defining moments during their time at Lafayette College
Cur Non, the motto of the Marquis de Lafayette, means “Why not?”, and it’s within that spirit that students are encouraged to ask themselves, “Why not explore? Why not engage? Why not take risks?”
At Lafayette, we challenge our students to move beyond the familiar, the comfortable, the easy. We dare them to become thinkers and leaders themselves. We offer them opportunities to jump into the thick of things, to take risks, to care deeply.
To celebrate all they have accomplished, we asked the 2022 George Wharton Pepper Prize nominees: When you look back at your time at Lafayette, what has been your most defining “Cur Non” moment? Here are their stories.
Alex Ashley ’22
“Looking back at my time at Lafayette, my most defining ‘Cur Non’ moment was when I decided to move my second major (mathematics) down to a minor during senior year. Obviously, this was not a popular decision, and I was met with many questions of ‘Why?’ from my peers, parents, and professors. Sure, I spent my entire career building up this major, but I decided that I wished to slightly expand my focus from purely academics toward enjoying my life with those who are important to me. Had I kept my second major, I would not have been able to spend my final college moments with my friends, rather I would have been in either Acopian or Pardee grinding away. Life is too short to spend it all working and studying. We should live a little, I mean, why not? Afterall, tomorrow is promised to no one.” –Alex Ashley ’22, 2022 George Wharton Pepper Prize recipient (chemical and biomolecular engineering)
Learn more about Ashley’s engineering research.
- The George Wharton Pepper Prize, awarded annually to the senior “who most nearly represents the Lafayette ideal,” was established in 1923 by George Wharton Pepper H’22, a United States senator from Pennsylvania, an attorney, and a founding member of the Pennsylvania Bar Association.
Jimmy Barrios ’22
“Entering Lafayette, there were very few ways I knew success could be attained. In my community, one made it to the top with either a microphone in hand or a basketball in the hoop. I thought I would have to experience the same fate. Fortunately enough, my life changed when I was able to participate in the Gateway Real Estate Career Track over interim break during my first year at Lafayette. Through this experience, I was able to build my first professional network with other amazing Lafayette students and alumni, including J.B. Reilly ’83, president of City Center Investment Corp. Being able to see that success can stem from a multitude of ways would ultimately lead to my experiences with businesses, including Citibank, Bank of America, and EY. Gateway truly allowed me to spread my wings and partake in all that life has to offer.” –Jimmy Barrios ’22 (mathematics and economics)
Learn more about Barrios’ experience as an intern at EY.
Kelly Mwaamba ’22
“My most defining ‘Cur Non’ moment occurred when I walked into the speech and debate interest meeting my freshman year. Now, with more than 50 tournaments under my belt, more than 10 state championships to my name, having represented the state of Pennsylvania three times at the Interstate Oratorical Competition, and being named the first Lafayette student in history to compete in three in-person national final rounds, it is safe to say that forensics played a huge role in shaping both the student and the person I am today. My coaches, Scott Placke and John Boyer, encouraged me to apply to Georgetown Law. I have made so many lifelong friends from all across the country, and I cannot wait to remain involved with this activity and with our team long after I graduate. I recognize that none of this would have happened had I not found the courage to ask myself, all those years ago, why not?” –Kelly Mwaamba ’22 (government and law and international affairs)
Learn about Mwaamba’s experience as a Lafayette summer scholar.
Kristen Steudel ’22
“In summer 2020 while working at Raytheon Technologies, I asked co-workers what their favorite internships and career experiences were. One of them mentioned an internship he did at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and I thought, ‘Hey, why not try working in New Mexico?’ I applied in the fall and was accepted. Although remote due to COVID-19, I flew to New Mexico for a weeklong trip as part of the internship and was astounded by the energy and enthusiasm of my mentors. I was astonished as Ph.D. engineers and scientists shared their research and community stories, from curing prostate cancer, starting a nursing program for high schoolers, crafting treaties to decrease nuclear stockpiles, and controlling a particle accelerator. It was this experience coupled with the research I had done all summer that opened my eyes to the impact I could have if I earned a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering. I’ve worked endlessly with professors and Dean Julia Goldberg to write applications for schools and funding. I am now planning to attend the University of Edinburgh for a master’s in energy, society, and sustainability, and then Stanford for a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering.” –Kristen Steudel ’22 (mechanical engineering, mathematics, and economics)
In addition to her academic accomplishments, Steudel recently partnered with a fellow student to build handmade swings and install them across campus in an effort to help raise climate change awareness and redefine what it means to be an adult. Read more.
Kwabena Acheampong ’22
“One of my most defining ‘Cur Non’ moments came at the end of the 2020 spring semester. Despite unease during the pandemic, I decided to reach out to Prof. Khadijah Mitchell and finish my application to a research program at University of Massachusetts Medical School. I fully immersed myself in research during that summer and gained requisite skills doing computational research in lung cancer and COVID-19. Those experiences and my mentors are still with me today as I complete my honors thesis in lung cancer. Without them, I would not be the health disparities researcher I have become and continue to work toward.” –Kwabena Acheampong ’22 (biology)
In addition to his research at Lafayette, Acheampong, along with friends from high school, created the #WEAREONETEAM campaign that raised money for the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI). Over $3,900 worth of T-shirts have been sold to date. Learn more.
Libby Mayer ’22
“A defining ‘Cur Non’ moment was during orientation weekend our freshmen year when I first learned about PASA and knew I wanted to get involved. However, I have had far more ‘that’s why’ rather than ‘why not’ moments during my time at Lafayette. In the fall semester of 2020 when we were all taking classes remotely, over 200 students joined PASA for a community discussion for the Consent Campaign. During the annual Take Back the Night vigil, I was continually struck with awe by the strength, courage, and vulnerability demonstrated by the survivors in our community. Prof. Dana Cuomo empowered me to translate gaps in our community into action by developing and delivering Lafayette’s first tailored sexual assault prevention program to first-year students. All these moments solidify my ‘that’s why’ we do this work on campus and fuel my ‘Cur Non’ to continue educating our campus community and advocating for the needs of survivors”. –Libby Mayer ’22 (neuroscience)
Lizzie Gumula ’22
“I think our worth as Lafayette students and citizens of the world comes from the idea of waking up every morning and asking yourself ‘Why not?’ The ‘Cur Non’ moment for me is actually building foundations for daily impetuous moments of growth, gratitude, and empowerment that come from saying yes to authenticity and vulnerability. Specifically, it’s saying ‘Cur Non’ to sowing the seeds to produce an accessible theater educational program for the Scranton Shakespeare Festival; to creating a diverse artistic landscape for the campus and Easton communities through my Williams Center Fellowship; to never stepping away from the rigor of interacting with academic pedagogy; and to constantly embrace the concept of ‘being more’ rather than ‘doing more.’” –Lizzie Gumula ’22 (English and theater)
Learn about Gumula’s experience directing Shakespeare’s R&J.
Milena Berestko ’22
“Upon moving to the U.S. and arriving at Lafayette College, I stumbled upon the opportunity to teach young women in Honduras. After two failed attempts of getting there due to the civil unrest and then the global pandemic, I spent last summer as a Women’s Leadership Development and Advocacy Intern, leading workshops on nonviolent communication, intimate partner violence, physical theater, and even introductory psychology. Spending my summer there, I felt a strong sense of purpose to bridge the achievement gap women experience. In light of that ‘Cur Non’ spirit, I also staged the ‘Transfer of Power’ performance inviting Eastonians to cut a strand of my hair as a symbolic transfer of power. ‘Cur Non’ is a lifestyle of embracing myself despite fear.” –Milena Berestko ’22 (psychology and theater)
Berestko, who recently received honorable mention in the College’s MacKnight Black Poetry contest, has been awarded a Humanity in Action Fellowship to learn from activists and scholars in Sarajevo.
Ross Coleman ’22
“I found myself entering the spring semester of my sophomore year as the vice president of Student Government, a position that I never expected to have. So long as I was serving that position, I knew that I didn’t want to just be a placeholder: I wanted to accomplish goals and advance the organization. The reason for this? ‘Cur Non!’ Why not try and impact positive change when you know you have the resources to do so? In my time as vice president, I was able to amend the budget bylaws, help revise the Constitution and Bylaws, and efficiently manage two election cycles. Just knowing that I am able to graduate from Lafayette having made my mark on an incredibly important organization is what makes me so proud to have put in the work that I did.” –Ross Coleman ’22 (mathematics and economics)
Shantae Shand '22
“My most defining ‘Cur Non’ moment was the moment I decided to create a business, Young and Thriving, with my best friend. We had no money and no idea how we were going to bring our vision of the College Boss Planner to life. All we had was the name and desire to help college students to manage their time, prioritize their health, and create good financial habits, all while excelling in the classroom. I’m happy we decided to rise to the height of our vision as opposed to sinking to the level of our perceived incompetence. It’s been such an amazing journey, and we’ve been able to help hundreds of students crush their goals.” –Shantae Shand ’22 (engineering studies and economics)
Shand recently drove around campus as part of President Nicole Farmer Hurd’s “Need a Lift?” series. Watch the episode now.