Ambition and academic rigor weren’t new concepts to Hannah Nayowith ’16 when she arrived at Carleton four years ago.
Yet impeccable high school credentials aside, being around similar high-achieving peers—and for the first time, knowing that they were the majority in class—sent a slight shiver down her spine.
“I was really blown away by the level of engagement from everyone. Students here had so many passions I hadn’t even anticipated,” says Nayowith, the valedictorian of her college prep charter school outside Chapel Hill, N.C. “That can certainly be intimidating when you’re trying to find your way, but more than anything, it motivates you to follow a couple different trajectories.”
The path that most defined her Carleton experience: Work-study through the Center for Community and Civic Engagement. Nayowith savored her time as a tutors’ coordinator with the Northfield Reads and Counts program, which connects Carleton students to local elementary and middle schools. She also served as a volunteer coordinator for homework help and childcare initiatives at Greenvale Park Community School.
Similarly, Nayowith is proud of building the Carleton chapter of J Street U, a pro-peace advocacy group working on positive solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In addition to her work on campus, Nayowith served on the national student board for J Street U, which brought her to the Oval Office in April for a group meeting with President Barack Obama.
Four years at Carleton has inevitably shaped Nayowith. Likewise, her presence on campus helped shape Carleton.
In a series of senior interviews, we asked Nayowith (sociology/anthropology) to reflect on life as a Carl and the road to graduation.
HOW I GOT TO CARLETON
“I found out about Carleton through a senior adviser at my charter school in North Carolina. I realized early on that I wanted to go to a small liberal arts college, and I was looking at a lot of Top 10, Top 20 lists on websites. He highlighted Carleton for me and said, ‘There’s this school you may have overlooked, but my brother and sister-in-law went there and they loved it. I’ve only heard good things. But it’s in Minnesota. It might be a shock to you weather-wise …'
“I applied off-hand a little bit, but once I learned more about Carleton, I really got excited. I was especially intrigued by the traditions and the campus community, and when I came and visited, it really solidified that I wanted to come here.”
MY TURNING POINT
“I was way overeager when I got to campus. I think I signed up for 34 Listservs at the Activities Fair. It was really a moment of, ‘Oh my gosh! I could do anything and everything!’
“I had a moment late in my sophomore year when I went abroad. I left in spring, so the term before, I had to get ready—yet I’m juggling all these things that I’m involved in. So I came to realize, ‘OK, I can either delegate all of these things or I can get rid of a few.’ It hit me that what I’d been involved in to that point simply wasn’t sustainable. I knew that I couldn’t be excelling academically and doing a million clubs, have time to sleep, hang out with friends, and generally be a healthy human being. (Laughs). It was a moment that really centered me. I had to decide: ‘What am I ultimately drawn to?’
“One of my mentors here, (former CCCE program director) Kelly Scheuerman, once said, ‘It’s better to undercommit and overachieve than overcommit and underachieve.’ I think that helped me prioritize and become much more excited about what I really wanted to do during the rest of my time at Carleton.”
NOW THAT I'M ABOUT TO LEAVE
"Until very recently, I had almost been nostalgic for something that hadn’t happened yet. Just the thought of leaving—it makes you sad and scared at the same time. But the last couple of months, I’ve only become more excited about what Carleton has prepared me to do in the world. I also think often about how unique this experience has been.
“My older sister came to visit (recently) . . . she had a very different experience with college. She visited me at the beginning of my sophomore year too, but this time she actually got to spend time with my friends, come to meetings with me—just generally get to experience what my life is like here. And it was pretty eye opening for me, because you can often get caught in the Carleton bubble and become normalized to what you have here. But then you see what that looks like from someone else’s perspective and it’s almost like, 'Oh, all of these kind and generous people who are passionate about so much—yeah, they’re not going to be everywhere I go.’
“I realize now that not every college grad looks like me. Carleton students are very unique, and that’s a cool thing I’m going to carry with me moving forward.”