From the moment Hannah McKiernan ’17 was brought home from the hospital in a College of William and Mary onesie to now, a few weeks before she walks out of the Christopher Wren Building in her graduation robe, the College has been a central part of her life.
While McKiernan spent this year serving as the Student Assembly vice president, her involvement with the College started a bit more simply. Her father graduated from the College in 1982, and McKiernan said he brought her to Williamsburg every year. While she wasn’t set on following in her dad’s footsteps, a visit during her junior year of high school settled her fate.
Now, after almost four years at the College, she’s ready to graduate with her dad in the audience. A few months ago, however, she wasn’t sure that would happen.
“My dad was really sick last year, all summer and a lot of last semester,” McKiernan said. “My family’s thing has been to just get to graduation. He almost died and there was this moment where he was like ‘If I don’t get to see you graduate, that would be the worst.’ He said, ‘I’m living to see you graduate’ because this school means so much to him. That has been the whole thing since my dad has gotten better. Everyone’s going to be there, so I have been looking forward to that because my dad is going to be there in his William and Mary tie and is going to be so proud.”
With her graduation plans set, McKiernan is looking forward to wrapping up her term as vice president and finishing up her classes before she heads to Prince George’s County, Md., to teach preschool or kindergarten with Teach for America. However, during her four years at the College she has worked to discover what she’s passionate about and to keep going when her father was ill.
Before McKiernan was sworn into office after winning an election with her running mate, former SA President Eboni Brown ’17, by a margin of 39 votes, she was figuring out what she was inspired by with the help of friends and professors at the College.
I definitely think that I have changed in that I figured out what I am most passionate about,” McKiernan said. “I do think William and Mary has helped me figure out what I am most interested in. There are so many options when you get to college, especially at William and Mary with a million clubs, professors and internships. I am very much the kind of person who wants to try all of it, but I realized that I was way overstretching myself and had to figure out what I was most passionate about.”
“I definitely think that I have changed in that I figured out what I am most passionate about,” McKiernan said. “I do think William and Mary has helped me figure out what I am most interested in. There are so many options when you get to college, especially at William and Mary with a million clubs, professors and internships. I am very much the kind of person who wants to try all of it, but I realized that I was way overstretching myself and had to figure out what I was most passionate about.”
For McKiernan, cutting back on her extracurricular involvements meant finding a home with Alpha Phi Omega, the College’s service fraternity. Once she joined APO, McKiernan said that she found herself joining the Young Democrats, which helped her volunteer in what she has ended up being most passionate about — education.
“APO is my service fraternity which I love dearly,” McKiernan said. “It helps form the servant part of servant leadership, because I really do believe the only way we can be effective leaders is to serve each other. I am extremely proud of everything APO has done. It’s an amazing organization that doesn’t get enough recognition, but it was the most impactful organization that I joined at William and Mary. It has led me into a lot of different things.”
One of McKiernan’s favorite experiences with APO is Campus Escort, a service that provides golf cart rides to students in need of transportation after dark.
“What has made me so passionate about APO is seeing the love that our brothers bring to the organization and the things that we do, especially Campus Escort … I am very passionate about it and I think it is extremely important,” McKiernan said. “The brotherhood is ready to fight for Campus Escort. We see the need on campus and we are the ones who do it every single night, we are ready to fight for it even when we see that no one else is. That’s the most impactful thing for me, seeing how much our brothers care … see how they’re willing to go the extra mile for something they believe in.”
When she’s not serving the campus via golf cart or presiding over the SA senate from her podium, McKiernan is probably spending her time focusing on education.
Her passion for education led her to declare a government major, and she has dedicated time to working for the department through her work-study with professor John McGlennon, who she said is her “de facto grandpa.” She has also spent time with the College’s Washington D.C. program, as an intern in the leadership and community engagement program and then as a teaching assistant for the same class.
While she has interned with the D.C. public school system and for the late Virginia Sen. John Miller’s campaign, McKiernan said that she has learned to accept that she excels at her passions, but not necessarily at test taking. For her, this is one of the most important lessons that she’s learned from her time at the College.
“I came here knowing that I wasn’t going to be the top of the class, that I wasn’t going to make Dean’s List all the time,” McKiernan said. “I don’t know if I’ve necessarily struggled in school, but test taking doesn’t come easily to me. I’ve had a hard time with that, always, forever. I just tell myself that I’m here for a reason, and the things that I’m really passionate about I perform really well in. There’s this assumption that people who are highly involved and active are also the ones who make Dean’s List every semester, that they have this infallible academic reputation, which is just not true at all. I’ve been pretty open about my struggles academically because at a school that is constantly focus on how you are performing, it’s ok to be like ‘I’m not that great at this, but I do well at what I’m passionate about.’”
What she is passionate about is her involvements with student organizations. Before she was SA vice president, she was a member of the Roosevelt Institute, a member of AMP’s music committee, the campaign coordinator for the Young Democrats, APO’s executive vice president and the undersecretary of public affairs to Richmond.
For McKiernan, one of the biggest challenges was her role as SA vice president. She said that although she felt ready when she was elected, her leadership style was new to the senate.
“It’s definitely been a challenge, that’s hard to deny,” McKiernan said. “I feel like I was ready for it, but I don’t know if other people were ready for me. I think that my leadership style is very loving and caring, I’m very much the motherly type. However, as mothers tend to do, when the law needs to be laid down, I’m not at all afraid to do that and speak my mind and do what I think is right. I think in past years, SA has tended to be pretty unwelcoming of people who are new, or outside of the typical SA mold.”
Breaking this mold has, in McKiernan’s opinion, been one of the biggest of her and Brown’s accomplishments. She also credits their Chief of Staff Sahil Mehrotra ’17 with this as well.
So I think we kind of changed the dynamic a little bit in terms of who runs for these top of the ticket positions,” McKiernan said. “We were three, at the time, non-Greek people. Two of us were people of color, two of us were women. I don’t even think we were trying [to be diverse], it just kind of happened. I hope that more people like us get involved. I don’t think that APO or the Young Democrats had been touched for SA stuff and last year they were just so excited. I feel like there are so many corners of campus that aren’t touched by SA elections. I hope that this is something we have left behind.”
“So I think we kind of changed the dynamic a little bit in terms of who runs for these top of the ticket positions,” McKiernan said. “We were three, at the time, non-Greek people. Two of us were people of color, two of us were women. I don’t even think we were trying [to be diverse], it just kind of happened. I hope that more people like us get involved. I don’t think that APO or the Young Democrats had been touched for SA stuff and last year they were just so excited. I feel like there are so many corners of campus that aren’t touched by SA elections. I hope that this is something we have left behind.”
Now that she’s done being behind the podium and will have her father in the audience when she graduates, she’s following his advice one more time — to be a teacher.
“My dad’s a teacher, my mom’s a school social worker, pretty much everyone in my family is involved in education in some way,” McKiernan said. “If you ask anyone what gets me most fired up, it’s vouchers and charter schools. I want to work in this educational policy realm, but my dad always told me that you can’t legislate education until you’ve taught a kid to read, so I’m going to go teach kids for two years or more, because I think I’m going to fall in love with it and not want to move. Either way, I’ll be doing what I want to do, working with public schools.”