Celebrating undergraduate student achievement and the class of 2017

Written by Karen L. Bystrom
May 31, 2017

Areesa Somani is receiving the 2017 Hickey Award, which recognizes the outstanding graduating student in the College of Arts and Sciences. Selection is based upon the student’s total contribution to academic life and is made by the department chairs and program directors of the College. The award honors the memory of Dr. Richard P. Hickey, professor of English, a beloved and respected teacher at Seattle University from 1947 until his death in 1968.

Clarissa Olivares is the recipient of the 2017 LeRoux Leadership Award, recognizing the student who has demonstrated exceptional leadership abilities, shown academic excellence, and performed significant service to the College. The recipient personifies in character and action the qualities of a liberal education, which constitute the spirit of our College. The award honors Fr. William Le Roux, S.J., who served as Dean of the College.

2017 graduates Areesa Somani and Clarissa Olavares

These two awards will be presented, along with Arts and Sciences Departmental Awards, on Friday, June 9, in Pigott Auditorium from 4 to 5 p.m., followed by a reception. The event is free and open to the public. You can learn more about Areesa and Clarrisa below; meet the rest of the recipients here.

Areesa Somani, 2017 Hickey Award

Areesa is a first generation Muslim-American the child of immigrants from Kenya and Tanzania and a triplet. Despite being one of three, Areesa is unique. As a Strategic Communication major and Political Science minor, Areesa lives the Seattle University mission; she learns in order to make the world a better place, is a leader among her peers, and has transformed this community for the better.

On campus, Areesa has been engaged in a variety of ways. She serves as the Student Representative for the Chief Diversity Officer's Anti-Bias Taskforce and as a Student Ambassador for the Alumni Association. She is also a member of the Seattle University Ignatian Leaders Honor Society and the Public Relations Student Society of America. Previously, Areesa served as a facilitator and mentor for the Seattle University First Year Leadership Institute.

Off campus, Areesa has held a number of positions, chief among them was her role as White House Intern in the Office of Presidential Correspondence for the Obama Administration. Areesa also interned in Senator Maria Cantwell's Seattle office and then, through the university's International Development Internship Program, at Leopards Hill Jesuit Secondary School in Zambia. Currently, Areesa works as an intern with the City of Seattle municipal television channel.

In addition to her contributions both on and off campus, Areesa is an exceptional student with a 3.92 GPA and an active research agenda. Her work has revolved around understanding and curtailing hate speech. Areesa herself has been the victim of hate speech and as a result she is incredibly passionate about researching the problem so she can figure out how to best address it.

Working with classmates, Areesa conducted a study of 398 people and found that people of color were less likely than their white counterparts to speak out about hate speech encountered online. Areesa presented her findings at both the 2016 National Conference for Undergraduate Research in Asheville, and the 2016 Seattle University Undergraduate Research Association conference, and is working to publish her research in the peer-reviewed journal, Social Media and Society.

Clarissa Olivares, 2017 Leroux Leadership Award

A double major in English and Economics, Clarissa is an excellent student-articulate, intelligent, and focused. Her interest in the relationships among language, education, economic class, and identity is a perfect constellation for her ambitions in immigration law, educational access, and sexual justice. She has been accepted into many prestigious laws schools. Clarissa is a superb member of our intellectual community and aims to use her intellect and passion in the pursuit of important social ideals.

Clarissa's determination and strength come from her personal history as the only child of hardworking people who struggled to give her opportunities. She remains conscious of the many sacrifices her family made to give her a chance at success. Clarissa's definition of success is not about money or career, but the fulfillment of her family's dreams, the recognition of their hardship, and the difficult work of addressing the inequalities that place so many at a disadvantage. To the extent that the LeRoux Award aims to recognize leadership ability with a concern for our University's primary mission in social justice, Clarissa's interests in both the shaping power of language and economic conditions, and her desire to work as an immigration lawyer at this particular juncture in US history, make her a strong recipient for the LeRoux.

Clarissa's English Departmental Honors project focuses on indigenous and Latinx identity, gender, and sexuality in contemporary literature. Taken together with her ambition to become a lawyer, Clarissa's work will serve as excellent preparation for a way of making real change possible for the different communities she cares about. Her four years of tutoring and mentoring work at Washington Middle School, through the SU Youth Initiative, puts her studies into action, and her values into practice. Through this program, Clarissa has helped students of color at a critical point of their educational development, and she has helped to coordinate and run a number of after-school programs. Clarissa exemplifies the best qualities of leadership and service to the community.