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University Communications

April 30, 2010

Hannah Datz Selected to Give Commencement Speech
at La Salle University

Hannah Datz

Four years ago, as a senior at Tantasqua Regional High School in Fiskdale, Mass., Hannah Datz volunteered to sing the national anthem at the school’s basketball game as a way to get out of her “comfort zone.” Now, she’s breaking through that zone again and will deliver the commencement address at her own graduation at La Salle University in Philadelphia on Sunday, May 16.

“Even coming to La Salle, where I knew no one, was breaking out of that comfort zone,” said Datz, who was also named the top student in the University’s Marketing Department.

During her senior year in high school she was accepted into the University’s Business Scholar Coop program; Datz has had two full-time internships with Johnson & Johnson and SAP.

Tradition at the University has a graduating senior deliver the address. All seniors are eligible to compete for the honor, which is selected by a committee of faculty, staff, and students.

Auditioning for the speech was not the hard part for Datz. She’s appeared in many productions with the University’s student theatre troupe and is considering a career in acting, which is why she started singing the nation anthem in high school: “I knew I had to get better at performing in front of people,” she said.

“I knew I would be able to handle the delivery aspect [in the selection process], but from a writing perspective, I've always been a little self-conscious about my skill level,” said Datz. “But, my whole La Salle experience has been about setting small goals that I thought I could never before accomplish. This just happened to be a big goal that from one perspective, seemed completely attainable, and from another perspective seemed like a dream.”

Before she wrote her speech, she said she sat for about an hour to really hone in on what she wanted to say: “Many of the things I feel about La Salle are easier felt than put into words, so I tried to use examples in my speech, especially about the accomplishments of our [senior] class. Experience as a tour guide for La Salle’s Admission Office really helped with framing some of my Lasallianisms in a somewhat eloquent way.”

Founded in 1863, La Salle is operated by the Brothers of the Christian Schools, a teaching order of the Catholic Church. The order was started in France during the 17th century by St. John Baptist de La Salle, who became the patron saint of teachers of the young. La Salle started schools aimed at educating poor children both academically and spiritually. His legacy is realized in the more than 1,000 schools in 82 countries.

“Lasallianism is funny, because as much as it is a made-up phrase, it is also one of the most real elements of our university -- it is what we are built upon!” said Datz. “It is the one word that sums up our values, ideals, and what differentiates us. But as Lasallians, none of us ever sit back and actually try to define it, mostly because the word means something different to every single person in our close-knit community. And yet, everyone is right.”

“The most interesting thing about Lasallianism is that it really does produce different graduates,” said Datz. “Many universities want to make you believe that they have the ‘it-factor’ that makes their school the best. ‘Lasallian’ is not La Salle's marketing ploy to increase enrollment. It is a serious philosophy about education and enrichment.”

As for defining Lasallian, Datz said she had an “Aha!” moment when a parent asked a student if there was crime at La Salle. The student replied, “A lot of universities have very high walls. They build and buy up neighborhoods and destroy local history in order to get that cosmetic effect that emits “safety.” Lasallian traditions have told us that if we break down our walls, embrace the culture and neighborhoods that surround us, and become an active part of helping the community thrive, we will be successful. That’s why we have the lowest on-campus crime rate of any of the Philadelphia schools.’”

“In just a few seconds, he had taught our audience key aspects of the word Lasallian: “Break down our walls, embrace culture, help the community thrive,” said Datz.

Her speech, said Datz, “sets out to say to my fellow graduates, ‘Realize that this degree makes you different. If you live by what we've learned from our Lasallian education, you will succeed. No doubt about it.’”