As part of Penn State’s 2020 spring commencement activities, Daniel Zahn will represent the Department of Communication Arts and Sciences in the College of the Liberal Arts as the department’s student marshal.
In response to the growing coronavirus pandemic, orders from the state government and recommendations from global public health organizations, Penn State will hold its spring 2020 commencement ceremony via livestream on May 9. The virtual ceremony will recognize all Penn State undergraduate students and all graduate students in the Penn State Graduate School.
Zahn, a Paterno Fellow and Schreyer Scholar, will graduate with a bachelor of arts degrees in communication arts and sciences, English, and philosophy, and minors in French, history, rhetoric, Jewish studies, and linguistics. His faculty marshal is Margaret Michels, teaching professor of communication arts and sciences.
Zahn was recognized as a Liberal Arts Change Maker for co-founding Future Opportunities Reached by Mentorship Consulting, an organization that pairs Penn State students with high school students to help with the college application process. This semester, Zahn taught an LSAT preparation course, CAS 197 Legal Reasoning and the Law School Admissions Test, through the new Students Teaching Students initiative, which is an undergraduate-developed program at Penn State that allows courses to be developed and taught by students and overseen by a faculty member.
Zahn held numerous leadership positions during his time as an undergraduate. He was a member of the Presidential Leadership Academy and served as president and captain of the Penn State Mock Trial Association where he led a nine-person executive board and a 71-member organization in both educational and competitive aspects. He was involved in student government, volunteered with the Office of Student Conduct, and mentored other students through the Undergraduate Speaking Center. As a member of the Schreyer Honors College, Zahn served as a recruitment director for the Schreyer Student Council. In this capacity, he had many responsibilities: training and coordinating 70 tour guides, planning events both large and small throughout the year, and working toward the goal of helping the admissions staff accomplish their initiatives.
Zahn’s internship experiences included spending a summer at the Office of the Lehigh County District Attorney where he orchestrated two research projects on contemporary legal topics and aided in trial preparations and courtroom proceedings. He spent another summer interning with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a non-profit group that focuses on protecting free speech rights on college campuses in the United States. For the last academic year, Zahn has served as a Jewish perspectives intern with Penn State Hillel.
In trying to take advantage of everything Penn State has to offer, Zahn decided to study abroad in London, England; Dublin, Ireland; and Besançon, France. He also participated in several research experiences. He was a Rock Ethics Institute Undergraduate Research Fellow in the Empathy and Moral Psychology Lab and a research assistant in the Center for Language Studies.
He also participated in an embedded course that took him to Bassila, Benin to conduct a linguistics research project. The research focused on everyday language use, which consisted of interviewing local students on how many languages they spoke, when they used what language, and their attitudes toward different languages. Additionally, the students assisted in creating archival footage of the Anii traditions in the Anii language.
The enrichment experience showed Zahn the power of his studies and made him realize the value of exploring the world beyond school. The experience gave him the opportunity to see the other side of research papers and how linguistics played out in real time. Since the research was in Benin, a Francophone country in West Africa, Zahn was able to utilize his French language skills to communicate with community members. Zahn also witnessed the diversity of languages in Benin, where he interacted with the native languages of Anii, Fon, and many others.
“The College of the Liberal Arts empowered me to consider a wide range of future paths and ambitions,” said Zahn. “With its focus on critical thinking, flexible approaches, and human connection, a Penn State Liberal Arts education enables me to seek wisdom and the good in every aspect of my life.”
After graduation, Zahn will attend Stanford Law School.
To first-year liberal arts students, Zahn offers the following advice. “Most limits placed on you at Penn State are self-imposed. You should strive to fail by aiming too high and not accomplishing it all rather than failing by shooting too low and accomplishing too little.”
This is the 12th in a series of stories on the 24 student marshals representing the College of the Liberal Arts during the spring 2020 commencement activities.