by Cori Hilsgen
Danielle Liebl hopes to increase awareness for people with disabilities. It’s what pushes her to stand on the front lines and promote social inclusion and better relationships.
Liebl, the 23-year-old daughter of Sherri and Michael Liebl, graduated from the College of St. Benedict. She has one sister, Casey, 25.
While she was a senior at CSB, Liebl was one of 10 winners of the inaugural Peace First Prize, a national award recognizing leading youth peacemakers who work to create peaceful schools and communities. She received a $50,000 fellowship to continue her peacemaking work.
Liebl was one of 700 people nominated for the award. The process took six months and included five interview sessions, most of them with president and co-founder of Peace First, Eric Dawson. The final interview was with Chelsea Clinton, the daughter of President Bill and Hillary Clinton.
Liebl applied the grant toward the expansion of the student club, Students for the Advancement of People with DIFFERbilities, now Differbilities Experience, which she co-founded and created as a sophomore at CSB and SJU.
The club helps raise awareness for people with disabilities, promotes social inclusion, and educates students and faculty about better ways to treat, interact and build relationships. She hopes to bring it to other campuses and to start it at the high school level.
Liebl, herself, was diagnosed with cerebral palsy as an infant.
Fun Facts about Liebl:
Favorite subject: Theology
“It challenges me to think in the grey instead of the black and white,” she said.
Activities she is involved with:
Institute for Women’s Leadership, DIFFERbilities Club, Magis Ministries
Favorite leisure activity:
“I enjoy walking, reading and starting my own non-profit,” Liebl said.
Favorite movie: Father of the Bride, parts I and II
“They are such classic movies that allow you to relax and have a good laugh,” she said.
“I don’t have a favorite genre,” Liebl said. “In my car, I usually jump between Christian, country and alternative.”
“Chocolate without a doubt,” she said. “There is not an occasion where it’s not appropriate.”
Favorite thing she likes to help other people to do:
“Never doubt a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
One of the hardest obstacles she has had to overcome in the school environment:
“How to accommodate to my surroundings so I can join my peers,” she said.
Has she ever witnessed bullying at school?
“I have witnessed bullying in high school,” Liebl said. “By the time I did anything, my classmate, the one who was bullied, walked away. I approached my classmate (who was bullied) and invited her to eat lunch with me. Sometimes, all it takes is a friend.”
One of the biggest challenges students face today:
Being able to juggle it all. “It takes a lot to be able to juggle your academics, extracurriculars and your social life,” she said.
How does college differ from high school?
“In college, you are much more independent,” Liebl said. “While you look forward to it all year, your senior year of high school, you call your parents within the first week to ask for their advice.”
Favorite technology device:
Does she like using technology at school?
“It depends” she said. “It’s so much easier to take notes; however, it can be quite distracting.”
What she wants to do now she has graduated:
“I want to make a difference,” she said. “It may not be in a job. It may be through an act of kindness. There is no greater reward than knowing you used your talents for the better.”
Something she would change if she could:
“I would change intolerance to tolerance,” Liebl said. “So many people are unaccepting of those different from them. How beautiful would it be if we embraced each others’ differences and learned from them, rather than using them as an excuse for exclusion.”
What she would like to be doing five years from now:
“I would love to be working at my nonprofit, DIFFERbilities Experience, full-time and working on changing people’s perceptions of those with disabilities.”
If she won $1 million and was asked to donate all of it, where would she donate it?
“I would donate it to expecting and new-time parents of those with disabilities,” she said. “I would love to give them the gift of truly enjoying the time with their child instead of being burdened with medical expenses.”
An experience that happened in college:
In her freshman year, she realized her wallet was missing. After searching for hours and backtracking her steps, she received an email that her ID was found. Not only was her license, credit cards and all her cash still in it, but someone even put a candy bar and a note with it that said, “Have a nice day.”
Something unique about her:
“I have listened and learned from my past experience,” she said. “That is what drives me to stand on the front lines for those with disabilities.”
The thing she likes best about St. Joseph:
“The best thing about St. Joe is feeling as though you were never a stranger and you are always at a family reunion,” Liebl said.
Danielle Liebl is a College of St. Benedict graduate who hopes to increase awareness for people with disabilities.