When Elizabeth Hansbrough received an email summoning her to see the president Wednesday morning, she guessed she was either in trouble or, maybe, she was about to be awarded Sweet Briar’s highest all-around student honor. She quickly decided it wasn’t the former.
“If I was in trouble, they would have sent me to Dean Steele,” she said, reasoning the dean of co-curricular life would handle all but the worst offenses. “If I’d done something that bad, I’d know about it.”
She also knew she’d be in Baltimore for the American National Riding Commission Championships during the 2013 Awards Convocation on the afternoon of Friday, April 19, when the Presidential Medalist was to be announced. So she allowed herself to think it might be possible.
Still, there was “disbelief, shock, but then I felt humbled and really flattered,” Hansbrough says. “I love this school so much that to receive this honor, I can’t put it into words.”
The Presidential Medal, a replica of the medal of office worn by President Jo Ellen Parker on ceremonial occasions, is given each year to a graduating senior who represents the full range of the College’s educational values. It recognizes intellectual achievement in addition to distinction in some combination of community service; the arts; global awareness; fitness and athletic achievement; and leadership, civility and integrity.
Ordinarily, Hansbrough would have learned of the award at the same time as everyone else, during an annual Academic Recognition Dinner for first-year honors and dean’s list students. This year, the presentation of the medal was to take place at a newly created Awards Convocation where, in addition to honor roll students, senior and departmental awards were handed out. Previously, the latter honors were given at baccalaureate.
In announcing the change, Parker said, “The excellence of our students is a source of pride for the whole community … it seems fitting, therefore, to present these academic awards on an occasion when the whole community joins together.”
Every Sweet Briar student knows the medal’s significance and for Hansbrough, it is a tangible symbol. “Being at Sweet Briar has helped me overcome so many insecurities. It’s the pinnacle that shows how much I changed for the better by coming here — that I’ve become the intelligent woman I wanted to be,” she says.
Hansbrough is a business management major and government minor, and also will receive the Equine Studies Certificate. She has been a Sweet Briar Scholar, Pannell Honors Scholar and 2012 Cramer Scholar. She is a member of Alpha Lambda Delta and Sigma Beta Delta honor societies. She has recently joined the concert choir and resumed playing the piano with Professor Rebecca McCord this semester after taking a break from it during much of her time in college.
“It’s a great release at the end of the day to sit down and play my favorite pieces,” she says.
Hansbrough was her junior class president and is vice president of the Student Government Association as a senior. On the SGA, she has encouraged Sweet Briar students to serve neighboring communities, leading successful blood drives and serving as an organizer for Girls on the Run.
This month she was named Old Dominion Athletic Conference Scholar Athlete of 2013. She is an accomplished rider who has participated on the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association, American National Riding Commission and hunter/jumper competitive show teams. She also was head of the Riding Council.
When Parker described the winner, she said, “This year’s Presidential Medalist is well-known to her faculty and peers as someone of the highest integrity and a love of Sweet Briar that has been evident throughout her undergraduate career.”
But Hansbrough says she feels indebted to Sweet Briar and SGA service is a way to give back. “Realizing how special this place is and how faculty and staff really know you and want you to succeed — I feel like there should be a return for that.”
A San Diego native with family roots in Virginia, she chose the College for its close community, strong liberal arts and equestrian program. Never one to speak out in high school, the natural leader who emerged at Sweet Briar was a surprise.
“I didn’t see myself as someone others would follow,” she says.
Now she enjoys being the one with the answers, the problem-solver. That squares with the sense of civic responsibility Hansbrough expresses in conversation. The first government course she took awoke in her a desire to know about and participate in what’s going on in the country.
She hasn’t forgotten that as she readies to embark on her career, starting with a nine-month leadership development program in business banking at BB&T in Winston-Salem, N.C. Upon completion, she is guaranteed a job. But it was an internship last summer that helped her decide BB&T’s training program was a good option.
As a legislative researcher in the public policy and governmental affairs group at a Washington accounting firm, she delved into regulatory compliance and attended congressional hearings.
“A lot of important things were being debated in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis,” she says. “I became interested in making a difference in the [financial services] industry. …Things need to be fixed and I want to be a part of it.”