Sarah O'Donald


Class of 2010
Human Development and Family Studies, and Women’s Studies
Penn State University Park

Sarah received this award for her leadership developing a network of support for young adults at Penn State who are dealing with a loved one’s diagnosis of cancer.

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You might be prone to think that there is nothing particularly controversial about knitting… and you would probably be right.  Maybe that is one of the reasons that knitting can serve Sarah O’Donald and the other members of Knitivism as such an effective tool for engaging people in discussions about issues that clearly are controversial.  By helping to found Knitivism and organizing ‘knit-ins’ as a peaceful form of protest against social injustice, Sarah does more than simply remind us of the historically significant tradition of grass-roots activism on college campuses in the United States.   She invites us to take up this tradition in ways that are both creative and responsive to the particular set of ethical challenges by which she and her peers will come to be remembered and defined in the minds of future generations.

We can be fairly certain that when future generations of college students look back on this time in our history, they will want to know what their predecessors were doing to address issues like sexual assault, threats to the constitutionally guaranteed rights of American citizens, and violations of human rights around the world.  If so, we will be able to tell them that Sarah O’Donald was standing up against these threats and providing much-needed leadership for an organization that both encouraged and helped others to do the same.  If they happen to wonder what knitting had to do with any of this, we might encourage them to think about the role that knitting plays in creating strong bonds; bonds that emerge both within the group of individuals that becomes transformed into a community through the practice, and within the individual skeins of yarn that become transformed into the tangible and enduring products of this community’s work.

Sarah’s ethical leadership during her time at Penn State is certainly not exhausted by her role in Knitivism, but that role does provide a particularly clear image of the thread (or, perhaps, the yarn) that runs through her multiple involvements with issues of gender equity and social justice, and that underscores her commitment to speaking up on behalf of those whose voices are often muted or silenced.  After graduating this spring, Sarah plans to continue following this thread by moving to southern Louisiana, where she will teach Special Education and Language Arts as part of the Teach for America program.

Watch & learn about her ethical leadership

Do you know a Penn State undergraduate student who stands up for a belief, a cause, or an idea?

The Rock Ethics Institute inaugurated the Stand Up Award to honor Penn State undergraduate students who have demonstrated courage, fortitude, and ethical leadership by taking a stand for a person, a cause, or a belief. This award and the individuals it honors should remind the entire Penn State community of how often the extraordinary act is possible in ordinary circumstances.