Class of 2019 Valedictorian and James Soper Merrill Prize winner Jon Stickel.

“He is the type of student that comes along very rarely in a professor’s career, someone who, in a quiet way, demonstrates exactly what I hold to be ‘the highest ideals of the College.’”

Professor of Economics Betsy Jensen is referring to Jon Stickel ’19, her advisee who received the James Soper Merrill Prize at Class and Charter Day. Yesterday he learned he is also valedictorian of the Class of 2019. The last time one person received both honors was in 1994, and prior to that, the double achievement occurred only four other times.

Jensen’s quote references the criteria for the Soper Merrill awardee, an individual chosen by the faculty from the graduating class “who, in character and influence, has best typified the highest ideals of the College.”

A Pittsburgh resident, Stickel majored in economics and mathematics and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa in September.  Jensen called him “an outstanding student who . . .  works as hard or harder than any student I have taught in my 35 years at Hamilton; he never comes to class or office hours unprepared and he always takes advantage of any opportunities offered to learn further.”

Stickel said he’s humbled at receiving the Soper Merrill Prize.  “The academic honors mean a lot, especially at an institution with so many bright individuals. But, the Soper Merrill means even more to me … because the faculty select the recipient. To know that they hold me in such high regard really inspires me,” Stickel said.

Stickel was a teaching assistant for the economics department, the math department, and the computer science department. “Watching [him] interact with other students in class and during office hours, I see his contributions as a leader,” said Jensen.

William Kenan Jr. Professor of Mathematics Dick Bedient said Stickel was among a group of students that met with job candidates. “In making this choice we were looking for students who would represent the best of our majors,” Bedient said.

Stickel is just as highly regarded out of the classroom.  He played forward on the men’s hockey team and was tri-captain in 2018-19. Men’s hockey coach Rob Haberbusch called him “a tremendous person, mature, and wise beyond his years… We could always count on him to say and do the right thing in every situation.”

Haberbusch recalls Stickel, as team captain, organizing community service projects for the hockey team, including volunteering at the Daniel Barden Highland Mudfest, the Hamilton College Walk for Autism, the Red Cross Blood Drive, the “Be The Match” Marrow Registry, and the Breaking Bread Program, in which Hamilton players are paired with youth hockey players in Clinton and serve as mentors.  Stickel also organized a charity game for the Wounded Warrior Project and the Central NY Association for the Blind, teaching them to play hockey.

“He was always prepared and gave his all both on and off the ice,” said Haberbusch.  “Jon was a constant example to the team that we can put academics first and still excel on the ice.” 

Stickel credits the hockey program with providing a balance to Hamilton’s rigorous academics. “When I came in as a freshman, I was blown away by the work ethic of the older guys. I quickly realized that success here was going to take hard work in each realm,” Stickel said. “But, having hockey to lean on when school was stressful was really fantastic and helped to clear my head.

“The community service projects are mostly a testament to the program itself … The team has always made community service as a top priority, next to academic success. I think what Coach Haberbusch has done is really impressive, and I’ll always be thankful to him for giving me the opportunity to play here,” Stickel said.

After graduation Stickel will return to Pittsburgh and begin working as a retirement actuarial analyst in the Pittsburgh office of Willis Towers Watson where he interned last summer.


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