Kerrin Norton ’19: Student of the Year

The Hilltopper chose to recognize one student who contributed greatly to the campus climate over the last year. Much in the vain of TIME Magazine‘s Person of the Year, our Student of the Year is meant to represent the student who, throughout 2018, contributed most significantly to the events at the college.

KERRIN NORTON ’19: A LEADER, A LEARNER

Kerrin Norton ’19 is The Hilltopper‘s choice for Student of the Year. (Photo courtesy of Kerrin Norton ’19)

On May 18, 2019, Kerrin Norton ‘19 will graduate from Saint Anselm College with a B.A. in Communications and English. She will also depart the Hilltop after leaving an indelible mark on this community that she cares so much about. Norton is a leader whose work for the student body at Saint Anselm College advances the value of learning – learning from experience, learning from peers, and learning through listening. In a year marked by profiles in courage, like Andrew Keyes ‘18 coming out of the closet as a Knight of Columbus, various staff members approaching The Hilltopper anonymously and on the record to speak about layoffs over the summer, and Matt Solomon ‘20 organizing a pride event and standing up for LGBTQ+ rights, Norton’s experience shows there remains value in effecting social change through existing institutions.

“I don’t even know why I applied here,” she told The Hilltopper when asked about the path that brought her to Saint A’s. When she visited campus, the future Admissions Ambassador fully intended to go to school outside of New England, but when she toured here she was struck by how the people described their relationships. She came to view Saint Anselm as a place to make lifelong friendships, and so she decided she’d just come here instead.

When she moved in freshman year, Norton figured she would transfer after her first semester, but around the third week, she was lying in bed when she realized she hadn’t cried yet like she’d anticipated. Huh, she thought to herself, before plunging into four years of heavy involvement on campus. She never even downloaded the transfer applications she once intended to complete.

“I got involved right away,” she said, “because in high school I waited too long. I challenged myself to get involved in one thing right away. So that was SGA for me.” From there, Norton’s work on her class council snowballed into becoming Chief of Staff for the Hughes/Ethier Administration, the third-highest-ranking position in the student government. She was also on the New Student Orientation Committee this past year and serves as the President of Saint Elizabeth Seton Society, the Senior Class Gift Committee, and as a Service & Solidarity trip leader.

Campus Accessibility & Presidential Search

Her titles do not tell the full story. Her work in these various capacities paints the picture of a tireless advocate – a happy warrior – dedicated to improving life at Saint Anselm College. Most significantly, she has been consistently working on improving handicap accessibility on campus. For Kerrin, the issue is personal. Her brother Own is a junior in high school and is in a wheelchair. She says that she remembers getting to Saint A’s and recognizing that the campus was not accessible for handicapped people.

Norton holds a deep love for Saint Anselm. When The Hilltopper asked why she is so committed to working on improving campus, she said, “I love it here, and I want everyone to love it. I don’t want there to be a reason why anyone wouldn’t love it.” Similarly, she explained that she would hate for handicapped students to miss out on the Saint Anselm experience because they use a wheelchair. “I wouldn’t want anyone to not be able to come because of the size of a doorway,” she explained. She went on to talk about when her brother would visit campus. “Not being able to share so much of campus because there isn’t a ramp doesn’t do this place justice,” she said.

Change at Saint Anselm College often comes slowly and exacting tangible victories through the Student Government Association can often leave students more frustrated and disappointed than content and successful. Such is not the case for Norton, who was joined by Tim Merrill ‘19, former SGA president and vice president Emma Bishop ‘18 and Brandon Pratt ‘18, and incumbents Joshua Hughes ‘20 and Jacob Ethier ‘20.

Next year, Dominic Hall will receive a significant amount of money in the next budget to be renovated. As Norton explained, “It’s not hospitality if someone can’t get into a building.” In the next year or so, the school will add a ramp to Dominic with a swipe entrance. As of now, a handicapped freshman boy would be placed in the Living Learning Commons whereas a freshman girl could be placed in Baroody and still be with other first-year students.

Because of Norton’s diligent work on handicap accessibility and other issues, the college administration selected her to represent the student body on the Presidential Search Committee. Norton said that being named to the committee is her greatest accomplishment as a student. She is humbled by the chance to be a voice for her fellow students.

As Norton explained what she thinks she can bring to the committee, a guiding virtue of her work emerged. In answering questions about the search committee, about her efforts on handicap accessibility, and on other issues, it became clear that for Kerrin Norton, being a leader is about being a good learner. It is about listening to students and advancing their beliefs. When asked what she hopes to see in the next college president, she was clear about her role, “I am looking for what I am hearing everyone else is looking for. As awesome as it is, I wasn’t selected for my opinions. I am a representative of the students’ concerns.”

What is she hearing? Norton said that most people want a president who is more present on campus and who gets to know students individually. “Community is a Benedictine hallmark, so we want to uphold that about our institution,” she explained.

A Guiding Value: Learning

Perhaps more than any other reason, her remarkable impact on campus has been made possible by her willingness to learn about the school and learn about how to implement change. When asked what her various roles have taught her, she replied, “Oh my gosh. So much. Literally so much. Where do I even begin?”

She fidgeted in her seat. Played with her hair a little bit. Looked around a nearly-empty coffee shop. Then, she answered succinctly, “I’ve learned to learn more by listening.” She hit the point over and over, continuing, “I think what I’ve really learned so much is how to be a good listener because I feel so blessed that I’ve had such an awesome experience here, but my experience is so different from yours or the people sitting over there. Through trying to increase handicap accessibility, I’ve learned how other people are excluded on campus.”

While she has been a champion of learning from her peers, Norton’s desire to effect change comes from an even more humbling experience. At Relay for Life, Norton opened up about losing her mom to cancer. The memory of her mom guides her to focus on the things that bring her joy – like helping others and improving the school. “When my mom passed away, she wished she’d spent more time with friends. I was a really focused student before she passed away,” Norton explained, “and life is so short – it’s just so short. You should do the things that make you happy.” For Norton, that means listening to her peers and fighting to make a difference.

Kerrin Norton ’19 speaking at Relay for Life. (Photo courtesy of Norton)

When prospective families ask her why she stayed at Saint Anselm College, Norton dons a smile and delivers a heartfelt answer, “I feel so privileged to be a part of a community that so many others feel lucky to be a part of. I think a lot of students feel that way, and if they don’t, I want them to be able to feel that way.”

Indeed, she has dedicated much of her free time at Saint Anselm to organizing events that all students can enjoy, addressing inequalities for handicapped people, and bringing the concerns of students to Alumni Hall. In true Kerrin Norton form, however, the humble example of student greatness was candid about what she wishes she had done more of while here. “I wish I’d done more service,” she said, as if her work on campus wasn’t enough. “Like a weekly commitment through Meelia. I overlapped with Meelia, but I never fully immersed myself in the way I wanted.” More service, Norton says.

She also recognized that her socioeconomic and racial backgrounds and her sexual orientation precluded her from immediately jumping into larger issues of inequality. Through the facilitated dialogue program, Norton learned more about the struggles facing those communities on campus. When the conversation turned to these issues, she grew quiet – a more reserved version of the Kerrin Norton who bubbled over with excitement as she explained her work on other issues. “I am a big proponent of inclusion, and I focused on one important aspect of it, but I wish I had been an earlier and more aggressive ally for those communities that need attention.” In her last semester, Norton said she is fully committing herself to be a better ally for those communities.

Strength from Others

From left to right: Maggie O’Connor ’19, Abbie Reynolds’ 19, Nick Richard ’19, and Kerrin Norton ’19. All four served on the Orientation Committee. (Photo courtesy of Norton)

While one may believe that Norton is a superwoman, and to some degree she is, she does not gather her strength alone. She mentioned her affinity for Dean of Students Alicia Finn, whom, she said, she “really aspire[s] to be like.” She continued, “Dean Finn inspires me every day.”

She also pointed to three friends who help her stay energized. Abbie Nolan ‘19, Maggie O’Connor ‘19, and Abbie Reynolds ‘19 all keep Norton on track. “I found their friendship by being involved in things we were working on together,” she said. “That’s such a special bond. They push themselves to be better and they’re role models to me because I see their passion and that inspires me to do better.”

“When the seniors graduated last year,” Norton said, “I was sad because so many good role models for me had graduated, but I realized I had role models all around me still.” These role models inspire Norton to keep up the work that demands so much of her time.

It would have been easy for Norton to spend her days in bed, binging on Netflix shows and reading novels or going to the coffee shop to socialize with friends. She was honest in saying she has plenty of days like this. However, so much of Kerrin Norton’s three-and-a-half years have been spent building a better campus community. In 2018, she overcame the odds of a perilous budget season to secure funds for a more inclusive campus, she helped organize an orientation weekend that welcomed one of the college’s largest classes in history, and she diligently worked to realize various SGA initiatives. In 2019, she will have more of an impact on campus than any other student could, by being in the room where it happens and helping select the next President of the College.

Early in the interview, Norton claimed she peaked in high school. Fortunately, for Saint Anselm College, she was wrong.

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