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Eight students honored with Spirit of Princeton awards

East Pyne Archway
Jon Ort / The Daily Princetonian

Eight undergraduates were named the 2019 recipients of the Spirit of Princeton Award, according to Leadership Program Coordinator Claire Pinciaro.

The award seeks to honor undergraduate students who have made outstanding contributions to campus and student life. The awardees are Marcia Brown ’19, Nnenna Ibe ’19, Kyle Lang ’19, Moyin Opeyemi ’19, Hannah Paynter ’19, Samuel Vilchez Santiago ’19, GJ Sevillano ’19, and Colin Yost ’19.


Since 1995, the award has recognized “students who have made a strong commitment to enhancing the undergraduate experience through contributions to student organizations, athletics, community service, religious life, residential life, and the arts,” according to a description from the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students.

All members of the University community were allowed to submit a nomination, and all undergraduates were eligible for the award. 

Brown is from Shaker Heights, Ohio, and is majoring in history with a certificate in African American studies. She is a member of the Glee Club and works for University Ticketing as a ticketing associate.

Brown is a former editor-in-chief of The Daily Princetonian.

“I really admire so many of the award winners from previous years as well as from this year,” Brown said. “I am excited to be honored alongside them.”

Ibe, from North Brunswick, N.J., is majoring in ecology and evolutionary biology, with a certificate in African studies. Having worked with the Freshman Scholars’ Institute since her arrival at the University, as a senior, she served as Head Fellow for the Scholars Institute Fellows Program.


She is also a member of the varsity women’s volleyball and track teams, and bicker chair for Cannon Dial Elm Club.

Lang, a psychology major from West Salem, Wis., has served as a treasurer and ministry team member for the Aquinas Institute, as well as a Peer Academic Advisor in Forbes. Among his passions are music — he played French horn in the Princeton University Orchestra and Sinfonia — and running, having received the Martin A. Dale ’53 Award in 2017 to run across the United States.

“‘Spirited’ is not the first word I would use to describe myself, so it was surprising to receive the email notifying me that I had been nominated for the Spirit of Princeton Award,” Lang said. “It is very humbling to know that many people in the campus community took the time to write a nomination. I am grateful to the friends, staff, and faculty who have helped make my Princeton experience a positive one.”

Opeyemi, from Nazareth, Pa., is concentrating in computer science. During his time at the University, he has played soccer on the men’s varsity team and has worked extensively with several of the University affinity groups, including serving as a committee member for the Men’s Allied Voices for a Respectful & Inclusive Community Project and as mentorship chair for the Princeton African Student Association. He is also a member of Profound Ivy, the University’s minority student athlete mentorship program.

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“I’m really honored to be selected as the recipient of this award,” Opeyemi said. “I’ve strived to really invest in my relationships with students and hope that other students will continue to contribute their unique skills and experiences to their community.”

Paynter, from Lyme, Conn., is a psychology concentrator, pursuing certificates in teacher preparation and African American studies. Former president of Cloister Inn and the Inter Club Council, she is also a member of the varsity women’s openweight rowing team, and served as an Athlete Orientation Leader in 2017 and 2018.

She is also a guest coordinator for Princeton Tonight, a volunteer tutor for the Princeton Learning Cooperative, a Lead Building Monitor at Campus Recreation, an Annual Giving TigerCaller for three years, and an organizer for the University “Vote100” campaign in 2018.

“I was so excited when I found out,“ Paynter said. “So many Princetonians pour their heart and soul into their short time at Princeton and it’s an honor to be recognized.”

Vilchez Santiago is a politics major from Orlando, Fla., and is pursuing certificates in Latin American studies, Latino studies, American studies, and Spanish. He has served as co-president and Advocacy Chair for Princeton Latinos y Amigos, National Liaison for the University’s Quest Scholars Network Chapter, and a member of the University DREAM team. He was also a U-Councilor for the Undergraduate Student Government.

“More than a recognition of my work, this award recognizes the incredible work of those who came before me, those who have been there advocating with me throughout my time at Princeton, and those who have supported me in any way possible,” Vilchez Santiago said. “Words cannot describe how grateful I am.”

Yost, a chemistry major and pre-med student from Portsmouth, N.H., worked as an operating room technician at Portsmouth Hospital last summer, helping to perform coronary heart bypass surgeries on patients. He serves as a Health Profession Advising peer advisor, a Residential College Advisor, co-president of the College Counseling Project through the Student Volunteer Council, and head writer for Princeton Tonight. He also works with the Chemistry Outreach Program and the Princeton University Percussion Players Ensemble.

“I was overwhelmed with gratitude and appreciation,” said Yost. “It’s humbling to have been nominated by my peers and to be among such an inspiring group of recipients.”

Sevillano, from Echo Park in Los Angeles, Calif., is concentrating in politics with a certificate in American studies. He has worked with the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship, the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies Undergraduate Fellowship, and the Behrman Undergraduate Society of Fellows. He was also the president and social chair for the Princeton HighSteppers, and worked at the Frist Welcome Desk. He is a residential college advisor for Butler College.

Sevillano says he was inspired by Jack Mazzulo ’16, who won the award in 2016, and “made it one his goals to follow in his footsteps” to positively impact the community. 

“It felt extremely validating to know that other people recognized the community building efforts I have pursued during my time here,” Sevillano said in an email to the ‘Prince.’ “As a queer, FLI student of color, Princeton was not always the easiest place to be, but with the help of these communities I had the strength to overcome challenges and diversify what the ‘typical’ Princeton student ought to be, ought to do, and ought to look like.” 

“And I think that’s what the Spirit of Princeton is all about: leadership, community, and diversity!”

Ibe had yet to respond to request for comment by the time of publication.