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Saint Leo student awarded top honor

Sarah Hard, no stranger to academic honors, is named one of the top college students in Florida.

By RYAN DAVIS

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 16, 2001


SAINT LEO -- Any talk about Sarah Hard starts with her laugh.

Those around Saint Leo University's deChantal Hall, the student activities hub where the senior has spent much of the past four years, describe it as a mix between a wild turkey and a hyena.

"It brings a smile to the rest of the people," said Vice President of Student Affairs Edward Dadez. "It's life. She brings life to the institution."

On Friday, Hard, who has accomplished just about everything a student could at this 1,600-student school, added another honor to her resume: One of the top seven students in the state by Florida Leader magazine.

The 14th annual award, which recognizes student leaders, was announced in Tallahassee. About 140 students applied and Brian Dassler, a University of Florida senior from Pembroke Pines took top honors. For being a finalist, Hard received $2,750 and other prizes, including two airplane tickets, organizers said.

The award caps a four-year run of honors and accomplishments for Hard.

She has been on honor roll seven consecutive semesters and has been named freshman of the year, sophomore of the year and junior of the year.

Proving that no one has thought much about her not winning the yet-to-be-decided award for this year, the university's public relations office put out a press release that indicated she had already won the honor.

She started in fall 1997 as a homesick girl from Cardinal Mooney High School in Sarasota who didn't know what she wanted to do.

"I knew I could either be a person who would go to class and come back or get involved and see what would happen."

Here's what happened:

She used to run cross-country in high school. There wasn't a team at Saint Leo.

So she started one.

She gathered university support and some teammates. It became a club and then a varsity sport.

She went to the Student Government office and applied to be academic chair. She got it.

Eventually she became secretary. Now she's president.

She has also been a resident assistant, a student ambassador, a student chaplain, a member of the university planning committee and a member of Alpha Sigma sorority.

She intends to study for a graduate degree in college student affairs, likely starting this fall at the University of South Florida, while working at Saint Leo. She isn't ready to leave yet, she said.

Her real passion is social work. Hard is a social work major (with a 3.7 grade-point average).

When she was in eighth grade, her 23-year-old brother, Andrew, died of a heart attack. He had Down's syndrome.

"I wanted to be like him," she said. "He used to say, 'Every day is a good day.'

"That's what I try to go by."

Her social work passion has led her to volunteer at Sunrise of Pasco domestic violence shelter, Summit Health Care in Zephyrhills and the Center for Independence in San Antonio. She has also interned for St. Jude's Hospital.

Hard often likens her time at Saint Leo's to a race, especially the Disney Marathon she ran in January.

Some stretches have been like miles 18-22, a time when she felt like she might have taken on too much. That's when she thinks of Andrew, who loved the Beach Boys.

She was having one of those stretches a few weeks ago. While driving in her car, she flipped on the radio to find the Beach Boys. She can't remember the tune, only her reaction.

"Gosh, he's thinking about me," she told herself.

Then she was back to one of those stretches like mile 23, where she stopped and danced with other runners for no reason at all.

And she laughed.

Friday was like that.

As her brother would say, Friday was a good day.

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