From Harvard Back to EMU, With Love

By Bonnie Price Lofton with Steve Shenk | July 20th, 2015

Karissa Sauder

Karissa Sauder ’10 holds a two-year position as law clerk for a U.S. District Court judge in Philadelphia. (Photo by Jon Styer)

As a 2014 graduate of Harvard University Law School, Karissa Sauder ’10 left a big impression on the 50 prospective honors students and their families who visited EMU one February weekend.

She jumped right into a big question on their minds: As highly accomplished high school students – with lots of choices of where to enroll in college – why should they choose EMU?

Because, she told them, if you end up at an Ivy League school for graduate studies like I did, you’ll be envied by your classmates for the experiences you had at EMU.

Sauder spoke of growing up within a Mennonite school system in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and almost avoiding EMU for that reason alone: “I thought I needed to expand my horizons and get out of the Mennonite world.”

Now, with the benefit of years at Harvard (“an entirely different educational experience”), she realizes that EMU did not keep her cloistered. On the contrary, it expanded her worldview, “more broadly than I could have imagined.”

Sauder cited the transformative impact of her cross-cultural semester in the Middle East – “probably one of the most incredible things I’ll ever do in my entire life” – and says some of her Harvard friends felt jealous of her experiences, compared to their more mundane study-abroads. She spoke of her semester at EMU’s Washington Community Scholars’ Center, during which she interned on Capitol Hill, accompanied a Congressional delegation to Civil Rights sites in Alabama, watched Barack Obama inaugurated as president, and studied women and third world development under an Iraqi professor.

On the main campus, Sauder was on the field hockey team, vice president of the Student Government Association, head of the student pre-law society, and both a ministry assistant and pastoral assistant.

“There’s an atmosphere here that’s hard to explain,” Sauder told the prospective honors students. “But it’s really as if the entire school is permeated with a cross-cultural mindset, of thinking beyond your own narrow surroundings to the much bigger world out there.”

Her experiences attracted interest at Harvard. Her professor of criminal law supported her proposal to bring lawyers doing restorative justice to campus, where they spoke to his class and did trainings with students. “People loved it.… They had never even heard of something like restorative justice, which was such a central part of my EMU experience, and they were fascinated.”

Sauder followed in the footsteps of a previous student named Obama by working for the prestigious Harvard Law Review journal, where she was managing editor. (Obama was Law Review president.)

Sauder said her Harvard friends and classmates included people with undergraduate degrees from Ivy League institutions, from gigantic public schools and from other small religious schools, but her background proved to be unique.

“EMU’s ‘like no other ‘ tagline is not a marketing ploy, it is very real,” Sauder said. “EMU is where I learned who I want to be, and I’ve held onto that since my time here.”

EMU offers its students “a unique perspective on the world no matter which field you ultimately enter,” she said. “The world is hungry for people who come from places like this one.”