It isn’t every day that you get to meet MSU royalty.
Shaw and Hannah are well-known names across the MSU campus, recognized for significant contributions in leadership at the University. Hannah Zimmerman, great-great granddaughter of May Shaw and eleventh MSU President Robert Shaw, and great granddaughter of his successor John Hannah, recently joined Liz Fuller (RCPD Leadership Development Specialist and Lead Tower Guard Advisor), Madeleine Russell (2020-2021 Tower Guard President), and Ishaan Modi (2020-2021 Tower Guard Vice President) for a meeting inside Beaumont Tower to discuss her upbringing and future endeavors while learning about her family legacy at MSU.
Hannah grew up in New York, where she developed an interest in politics and activism. She was named after Sarah Shaw Hannah, daughter of Robert and May Shaw and wife of John Hannah. After attending a summer camp at the University of Michigan, where she was introduced to college-student activism and learned about Senator Bernie Sanders, Hannah founded High Schoolers for Bernie. At 17 years old, Hannah was elected as New York’s youngest elected official, serving as a committeewoman responsible for electing county officials, endorsing candidates, and much more. Hannah then was accepted into Stanford University. She decided to take a break from the spotlight and lived in Norway for 6 months, where she experienced much growth and self-exploration while working closely with the National Labor Organization. When Hannah returned to the United States, she got the Presidential Fellowship in Washington DC and founded her own organization, The Institute for Civic Organization (TICO). Her work at TICO “centers around providing standardized academic civic organizing products as well as collaborating with public and private organizations to craft solutions that best fit the needs of their constituents”. As of publishing this article, Hannah is 22 years old and has a couple undergraduate semesters left at Stanford.
Hannah didn’t come to realize the significance of her MSU heritage until this past year, when she was living with her mom on Michigan land originally granted to John Hannah during his tenure as MSU’s twelfth president. In the house there was a memoir of John Hannah, which Hannah read and learned more about her family history. She grew up learning about her great grandfather’s legacy and followed his example in leadership. However, Hannah did not know the significance of her great-great grandparents’, May and Robert Shaw’s, work until reading the memoir. In wanting to learn more, Hannah reached out to MSU Archives and requested access to the John Hannah files. Not only did she come to a deeper understanding of her great grandfather’s work, but she also came to understand his personality, mannerisms, and way of speaking, which made the project even more endearing and personal. Hannah did not know about Tower Guard until she took a tour of MSU and visited Beaumont Tower. This organization, which her great-great grandmother, May Shaw, founded in 1934, now benefits close to 3,000 students with disabilities through a network of intelligent and compassionate students dedicated to service. Hannah commented that “visiting Michigan State University and seeing the work that my ancestors have done is rewarding and emotional.”
Hannah is looking forward to taking her future children to Beaumont Tower and showing them the contributions that their ancestors made at MSU. We hope to partner with Hannah and have her speak in upcoming Tower Guard events, sharing her incredible story and family legacy with those who are closely impacted by it. While she understands and appreciates the importance of her heritage, Hannah states, “I’m Hannah, not a Hannah”, desiring to make history on her own.
Learn more about Hannah here: