Valedictorian keeps things in perspective during pandemic

May 11, 2020

Sarah Hirschmann teaching children in Africa during a service trip.Sarah Hirschmann is not too disappointed that her senior year at University of Detroit Mercy was cut short by a global pandemic. She’s not even disappointed that, as valedictorian, she will not be giving the address she worked so hard on.

“There are bigger problems,” she said. “COVID has taken so much, a ceremony like this isn’t a big deal.”

This realism came at great cost: Hirschmann’s 24-year-old brother Benjamin died of COVID-19 at home on March 31.

“We’re doing OK,” she said of her family. “We have a good support system.”

Hirschmann said her family planned on gathering at their home in Fraser on May 9, the original date of Detroit Mercy’s undergraduate commencement, for a nice dinner and a quiet celebration to honor her and another brother who graduated from law school this year.

She’ll likely be able to give her speech when the University reschedules the 2020 Commencement ceremonies in the fall.

Hirschmann was recruited to play soccer at Detroit Mercy, and was the goalkeeper for four years. The feel of the campus and the way faculty members cared for her as a person and a student, though, sealed the deal and she has not regretted her decision.

“It surpassed all my expectations,” she said. She has grown, she says, due to the support and encouragement of faculty and friends and opportunities that Detroit Mercy offers. And she is most thankful for the relationships she has built over the last four years.

“You start out with a small group like the soccer team, and then you broaden your group in classes and organizations, and then you broaden it further through service and pretty soon you have really strong relationships with students, faculty and the community,” she said.

While at Detroit Mercy, she traveled to El Salvador, Kenya and India to teach on service trips. She worked with the Pope Francis Center downtown and in soup kitchens in Detroit. She worked with her soccer teammates on other service work, taking families under their wing. She taught in Detroit Public Schools and helped with other student-driven service projects.

She co-chaired the committee that brought hundreds of students from across the 28 Jesuit colleges and universities to campus last summer for the National Jesuit Student Leadership Conference. It was the first time the conference had been at Detroit Mercy.

An Elementary Education major, Hirschmann is excited about the prospect of working in the Detroit Public Schools and has applied for a temporary teaching certificate which will allow her to apply for next school year’s teaching jobs during the pandemic.

Her next goal, though, is to take the LSAT — though she doesn’t know when that might happen thanks to the pandemic.

Hirschmann urges current and future Detroit Mercy students to look into the unique opportunities presented by the University.

“My involvement on campus is what made my experience here,” she said. “I would tell every student to get involved on campus, because of all the relationships I have built.”

Read more stories about Hirschmann's work in the community and with the National Jesuit Student Leadership Conference online.

- By Ron Bernas. Follow Detroit Mercy on FacebookTwitter and Instagram. Have a story idea? Let us know by submitting your idea.