$50,000 grant

Final interview nets big reward

October 16, 2013

By Mike Killeen

Danielle Liebl

Photo: Tommy O'Laughlin

Imagine this: You're getting ready for an interview to determine if you might win an award that carries a $50,000 grant, and you're preparing to speak with the president and co-founder of the sponsoring organization for the final time.

Intimidating, right? Now, imagine at the very last minute that you are told that the interview is to be conducted by Chelsea Clinton, daughter of former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

That's the scenario Danielle Liebl faced. But the College of Saint Benedict senior aced her interview, and was one of 10 winners of the inaugural Peace First Prize.

The Peace First Prize is a national award recognizing leading youth peacemakers who are focused on creating peaceful schools and communities. The winners, who were announced Sunday, Oct. 6, in New York City, each receive a two-year, $50,000 fellowship to further their peacemaking work.

"The whole process from when I was nominated to when I was notified that I was a winner was a six-month process," said Liebl, who was one of 700 people initially nominated for the award.

That included five interview sessions, most with Eric Dawson, president and co-founder of Peace First.

"When the last interview was approaching, I just assumed it would be with Eric again. It wasn't until two days before the interview that they sent me Chelsea Clinton's biography, and told me she would be doing my final interview," said Liebl, a peace studies and theology double-major who plans to graduate in December.

"It was very nerve-racking being interviewed by someone who has seen their share of accomplishments. During the interview, she was very pleasant to talk with, but you could tell that she wanted to get right down to business," Liebl said. "During the interview she gave me great feedback and you could tell she was genuinely interested.

"It was a once in a lifetime experience, and I am very grateful I got the opportunity."

The grant will help the expansion of the student club, Students for the Advancement of People with DIFFERbilities, which Liebl founded and created as a sophomore at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University. Approximately 60 students currently are in the club.

"The purpose of Students for the Advancement of People with DIFFERbilities is to raise awareness for people with disabilities, promote the social inclusion of people with disabilities and to educate students and faculty on the CSB and SJU campuses about better ways to treat, interact and build relationships with people with disabilities," said Liebl, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy as an infant. The club offers CSB and SJU students opportunities to play, work and interact with people with disabilities, she added.

The Peace First Prize will ultimately allow Students for the Advancement of People with DIFFERbilities to be implemented across Minnesota.

"It will allow me to use the current model of Students for the Advancement of People with DIFFERbilities that is used at CSB and SJU to be implemented in other colleges around the state," Liebl said. "It will also allow Students for the Advancement of People with DIFFERbilities to be started at the high school level by developing and beginning unified service-learning opportunities for students with and without disabilities."

The award is still surprising to the native of Richmond, Minn., who graduated from Rocori High School in 2010.

"To say I was surprised is an understatement. I am very humbled and honored to be recognized among these nine other amazing and inspiring individuals. I am still in a shock of disbelief," Liebl said.