Jennifer Sibert ’13 sat down to write her customary thank-you notes for scholarships she received from Colby endowed funds and paused. “I was writing the letters,” she said, “and then I looked over the names again and I saw ’02. I was curious as to why this person so young had a scholarship.”
The name on the fund was Elizabeth Hanson, the Colby alumna killed with six other Central Intelligence Agency staff members in a suicide bombing in Afghanistan in December 2009. The scholarship fund was set up by Hanson’s classmates after her death. Sibert is the first recipient.
For Sibert, an international studies and anthropology major, the pieces of Hanson’s story came together.
When Hanson died, she and other CIA operatives were about to participate in a high-level debriefing of a Jordanian doctor who had promised information about Al Qaeda. Instead he detonated a suicide vest. It was only after her death that her friends learned the true nature of Hanson’s job. Understandably, she was not able to share details of with her friends.
“I was really touched by the story,” said Sibert, who had read about Hanson in Colby magazine and listened to a report on NPR, “and inspired by her dedication and her hardworking spirit, but also her ability to be under wraps in a certain way that allowed her to do her job.
“And to not be so high profile in her life. I think it takes someone really secure with themselves to do that.”
What struck her, Sibert said, was that Hanson was able to be an active member of the Colby community but also keep part of her life private. Sibert, who moved frequently with her mother and younger sister growing up, said she feels she understands that part of Hanson’s personality.
“It was kind of like the American dream,” Sibert said of her mobile upbringing, in which her mother attended college and took teaching jobs in different states. “It was just looking for something better. And envisioning this better possibility elsewhere.”
The Hanson scholarship, and other funding, allows Sibert to enjoy a luxury she didn’t know before Colby-knowing she doesn’t have to move on soon. “I think that’s something that Colby has really given me. Having scholarship awards like this one is allowing me to stay put and really develop relationships with people. Not having to transfer out after two years because I can’t afford to stay here anymore. I’m not just learning academically; I’m learning socially and psychologically, too, to just engage in this community and know that it’s ever-evolving and nobody’s going anywhere.”
While Sibert, a videographer for insideColby, said she doesn’t feel she’s just like Hanson, she noted similarities.
Hanson read Anna Karenina 10 times. Sibert loves 19th-century Russian literature. Hanson helped provide decision makers with information. Sibert is interested in international decision making. Hanson must have been adaptive to do her job. Sibert has had to be.
“I don’t think that means I’ll necessarily be in the CIA or anything,” she said. “But I could definitely see myself doing something that requires constantly moving or adapting, just because that’s a huge part of my life. And if I can do that well, why not do it as a service?”