Class of 2022 valedictorian Hannah Spitzer standing outdoors in front of Lafayette College's Colton Chapel

Hannah Spitzer ’22

Major: Policy studies; history minor

Co-curriculars: Lafayette Club Crew Team, Alpha Gamma Delta, Hillel Society, Lafayette Leadership Education Committee

Post-graduation plans: Taking a gap year; planning to pursue a master’s degree in social work for a career as a psychotherapist

Describe your senior year in three words.

Busy, fulfilling, and really fun!

What does being valedictorian mean to you?

Being valedictorian is something I needed to accomplish for myself. I faced learning challenges growing up and truly dreaded school for a long time because it was a place where I felt inadequate and humiliated. Nothing was worse than a teacher making me read out loud and hearing my peers making fun of me. I did not know it at the time, but I was years below grade level. It was not until the end of my sophomore year of high school, when I was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder and got the accommodations and help I needed, that I began to demonstrate academic potential. I went from failing tests to acing them within a matter of months.

My self-esteem, however, did not recover so easily. I felt unintelligent for a long time, even in college. I am not one to whom things come easily. I sometimes have to work harder and longer than my peers to get the same results. But, while my learning challenges were, at times, defeating, they taught me the endurance to work hard through obstacles. Honestly, being valedictorian means everything to me. It means I can finally move on from my past academic challenges and believe in my intelligence.

What’s your favorite Lafayette memory?

Spring break with the crew team both my first year and senior year. Spring break is a fun bonding time that brings the entire team together. It is hard having missed two spring breaks due to the pandemic, but I am grateful for the time I was able to have with my teammates the other two years.

What’s the most impactful class you took?

HIST 105: History of the Modern World with Prof. Caroline Séquin. I absolutely loved this course, and it is actually why I decided to minor in history. If I had taken it earlier, I would have double majored in policy studies and history.

Before the course, I thought history was the memorization of dates, military conflicts, and political leaders. Prof. Séquin taught me that history is much more than that; history reveals the dynamics of the world and its actors. Prof. Séquin also taught me that history provides the opportunity to hear the voices of marginalized communities that have previously been silenced by those in power. I am grateful to her for all she has taught me and to policy studies for requiring this course. My college experience would not have been the same without the History Department.

Who was the most influential person during your time at the College?

This is a really hard question. I cannot give one most influential person, sorry. Here are a few. Every class I have taken with Prof. Jeremy Zallen has made me a better person. I knew I could always go to Prof. Zallen for questions related to his course or any other topic. Thank you for everything you have done for me, Prof. Zallen.

Another influential person was Dr. Heidi Hendrickson, my General Chemistry I professor. I was a Supplemental Instruction Leader for her a year later. Having this professor in my corner was so special. I am grateful to Dr. Hendrickson for always cheering me on even when I was not her student. Finally, my crew coach, Rick Kelliher. From daily practice to supporting me at my thesis defense, I will always be grateful for my time with Rick.

What will you miss most about Laf?

I loved being in an academic environment with my best friends. Living with your people in a small radius is a special privilege that I will miss. I will also miss class and office hours where I was able to learn from my amazing professors.

Describe your biggest challenge and how you overcame it.

I felt imposter syndrome and a general lack of belonging when I first arrived at Lafayette. I slowly overcame my imposter syndrome by telling myself that all I could do was my best and that had to be enough. When I doubted myself, I would think about my high school teachers who gave me so much. Specifically, I would think about my English teacher, Jeanne. I do not think anyone ever has, or ever will, believe in me the way that Jeanne did. I would think to myself, ‘It is not enough for Jeanne to believe in me; now I need to believe in myself.’ The crew team also helped me feel like I had a place and community at Lafayette.

What do you wish for your fellow graduating classmates?

First, I hope that they see their journey at Lafayette as the beginning of a life of learning. Second, I wish that they maintain the connections and friendships they made here; physical distance is not what makes up a friendship. Lastly, I hope they use the privilege of a Lafayette education and pay it forward to make the world a better place.

What advice would you give to your first-year self?

It is OK to take a break and do things because they are fun. In fact, taking breaks and doing things that make you happy outside of academics will make you a better student and person.

What words of wisdom would you like to share with upcoming seniors?

Do what makes you feel happy and fulfilled. By now, you have an idea of what these things are. Do not spend your time and energy on things and people who do not make you better. You have only one senior year. It’s the best; don’t waste it.

How has Lafayette changed you?

Lafayette has made me more confident in myself and my ability to accomplish whatever it is I put my mind to.

How do you hope to change the world?

As a psychotherapist, I hope to make a difference in the lives of others by being there when people are in need. I believe that changing the life of one person is like changing an entire world. I will do everything I can to take every privilege given to me and use it for good.

The most important thing you learned about yourself at Lafayette is:

I have learned that I am an independent thinker and that being different is good if it is what makes you happy.

Commencement Highlights

Lafayette College's 187th Commencement ceremony Saturday, May 21

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Categorized in: Academic News, Class of 2022, Commencement 2022, News and Features, Policy Studies, Student Profiles, Students