Danielle Mikaelian ’21 Was “Incredibly Grateful” for College Journey

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Danielle Mikaelian ’21 is a second-year student at Harvard Law School. At the College, Mikaelian, who earned a B.A. in English literature, was honored as 2021 Student of the Year and was a Robert Harron Award and a King’s Crown Leadership and Excellence Award recipient. Working with the Office of University Life, she oversaw mental health and wellness programming for all of Columbia’s undergraduate and graduate schools, served on the Columbia College Student Council, was a leader within the Columbia College Fund, president of the Columbia University Armenian Society, and editor-in-chief of the Women in Law and Politics Journal. Mikaelian is a proud Armenian-American and the descendant of Armenian genocide survivors.

What were you like when you arrived at Columbia?

Considering I completed Columbia’s Outdoor Orientation Program, I showed up at the College completely exhausted from four days of hiking in the Catskill Mountains! At the same time, I felt excited about the unknown. I had been to New York only two times before starting my studies at Columbia. The first was to tour campus, and the second was for admitted student days. Beyond that, I recognized that I was plunging myself into an entirely new world.

I am originally from a suburb in California. As a result, transitioning to the hustle and bustle of New York City was incredibly exciting. I fell in love with the city immediately, and the feeling of empowerment that washed over me every time I stepped foot in NYC has never left me. New York seemed, as cliche as it might sound, like a city where you could accomplish anything.

I also came into Columbia having no idea what popular fields like investment banking, consulting or transactional law were. I remember frantically scheduling meetings at the Center for Career Education to understand what my future could look like. I eventually decided to pursue law, becoming very involved with Columbia’s prelaw community. One highlight was founding the Columbia Women in Law and Politics Journal.

I also was incredibly grateful for the opportunity to be at the institution in the first place. Much of my Columbia journey revolved around giving back to the community: I became extremely involved on campus, eventually serving on more than 10 Columbia executive boards. I was a leader within the Columbia Undergraduate Law Review, the Office of University Life Leadership Council, the Columbia College Student Council, Women in Law and Politics, the Columbia University Armenian Society and more.

What do you remember about your first-year living situation?

I was on John Jay 14, which we lovingly dubbed “Floorteen.” My RA, Owen, was an incredible source of support and I felt extremely lucky to have him overseeing our floor. I also made a wonderful best friend in my floormate Ruby Galdean ’23. During my last trip to New York, we visited campus together and played board games at Hex & Co, a favorite spot.

My floor was a wonderful reflection of Columbia’s talent and diversity. I remember the shock of discovering one of my floormates was the Rubik’s Cube World Champion, while watching another floormate perform magic tricks. Others were incredible singers, dancers and poets. I also remember people’s horrified reactions when they learned someone in our building had somehow over-microwaved a cookie, leading to a small dorm fire.

I was on the John Jay Residence Hall Council, as well. I remember us frantically ordering supplies for “spa day” events and coordinating a residence hall haunted house. I eventually transitioned into a leadership role on RHLO, the Residence Hall Council, and oversaw communications for all of the residence halls.

What Core class or experience do you most remember, and why?

My favorite Core class was Literature Humanities. As an English major, I found it invigorating to study literature alongside individuals from different majors instead of solely analyzing these works alongside other students pursuing a liberal arts track. Diversity in perspective was key. As an avid reader and literature lover, I also enjoyed the opportunity to be exposed to a variety of works that I would have never read otherwise.

My professor, Michael West, was incredibly kind and set the stage for invigorating class discussions. I particularly enjoyed reading and analyzing works by Shakespeare, Virginia Woolf and Jane Austen — I eventually focused my studies on British literature as a result. I enrolled in a course specifically on Shakespeare, delving into many of his most acclaimed works and even attending plays alongside my classmates.

Did you have a favorite spot on campus, and what did you like about it?

I lived in Wien Hall as a junior, and next door to the Law School. It quickly became my favorite spot, both because of the beautiful cherry blossom trees and also its offerings. As an aspiring law student, I felt empowered when I studied near a space dedicated to students pursuing their studies in law. As part of my role as wellness chair, I hosted events in the Law School like pumpkin painting breaks.

Beyond that, I loved Low Library. I was privileged to cover an Alexander Hamilton Award Dinner for Bwog and attended a few other events there. It’s a beautiful space.

What, if anything, about your College experience would you do over?

I graduated during the pandemic, so this answer is likely quite intuitive. I unfortunately had to leave campus during Spring Break of my junior year due to Covid-19 cases skyrocketing in New York, and missed many cherished senior traditions. While we had a formal graduation at a later date, I’ll forever wish I had the opportunity to properly say goodbye to both Columbia as a whole and my classmates.

I also would have taken more creative writing classes. I did enroll in beginning and intermediate poetry workshops and the beginning fiction workshop. These classes provided me with my first opportunity to receive feedback from my peers on my writing. At Harvard Law, the opportunity to have my literary work critiqued by peers is much more limited.