Overcoming Adversity: Sasha Zidar Leads Class of 2018 at Convocation

Commencement is a time for celebrating an incredible achievement — the culmination of four years of hard work and overcoming every obstacle to earn that degree. For some, it’s a time to reflect on the journey they’ve made to get here.

This year, Journalism student Sasha Zidar will serve as the banner carrier at ComArtSci’s convocation, an honor bestowed upon one outstanding graduating senior each spring semester.  

“I was honored that I was nominated, or that anyone even thought of me to represent ComArtSci at graduation,” said Zidar.

Building a Support System

During her time as an undergraduate, Zidar made many lasting connections; she’s interned for the Mackinac Town Crier and has been a reporter on the State News staff for years. Perhaps one of the most meaningful relationships she formed was with the School of Journalism’s Sports Journalist in Residence Joanne Gerstner.

Zidar was experiencing a great deal of adversity during the fall of last year. When it started affecting her demeanor in class, Gerstner took notice and reached out after class one day.

“She knew I was hurting. She knew I was struggling,” said Zidar. “But she also saw my talent when I didn’t even realize I had anything there. She gave me a second chance at school.”

Along with Professor of Practice Amy Haimerl, who related to Zidar through her own history with adversity, and other Journalism faculty, Gerstner was able to give her student the support she needed to succeed.

“I am happy to say I am lucky that several of us helped Sasha when she was in need, but she has done all the work to advance her education and career,” said Gerstner. “I have been honored to be her mentor and professor, and part of her journey at MSU.”

A Budding Professional

Zidar will be leaving this university not only with a degree and sturdy support system, but also with a newfound confidence in herself and her work.

“I know what I’m capable of and I know what I’m like when I feel like I have nothing,” said Zidar. “I’ve set myself up in a position where I can’t fail. I’ve had every opportunity, just like everybody else, and I need to take advantage of that.”

As Zidar’s undergraduate career is coming to an end, her professional career is just taking off. She’ll be working for MLive Media Group in Grand Rapids, as well as partnering on a project for their parent company, Advance Publications, in New York this summer.

“Looking back full-circle, I would have to thank everybody who believed in me when I thought I had no one — the J-School did that,” said Zidar. “They all had my back and I think it goes to show what this place represents. They always go above and beyond and that’s why leaving this place is going to be probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done."

Time to Move Forward

Though Zidar is hesitant to leave the school she’s called home for the last four years, she knows it’s time to move on and tackle the next chapter of her journey.

“Joanne told me, ‘If you feel like you have it figured out, if you finally feel comfortable, that’s when you know you need to leave. It’s time. You’re ready,’” said Zidar. “Right away, I knew she was right. There’s nothing left for me here. I’ve done everything that I could and it’s time to go. It’s extremely bittersweet.”

Zidar is proud to be leaving MSU on her own terms, saying that there’s nothing she would change about her experience. Gerstner, for one, is confident she’s going to find success after graduation.

“Sasha is a wonderful student, a caring journalist and a strong woman who has overcome several significant challenges in her life,” said Gerstner. “She is exactly what we want our students to be — ethical, asking questions of the world and telling the stories that need to be told. I am thrilled to see her graduate from MSU’s School of Journalism and I am very proud of her. I am excited to see what she does in the future.”

By Kaitlin Dudlets