Oxford graduate creates Letters to Dad Foundation, receives outstanding service award

By Elaine Justice | Emory Report | May 25, 2021

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Oxford College graduate Hannah Kreuziger received the Virgil Y.C. Eady Sophomore Service Award during Commencement ceremonies, partly due to her leadership and initiative in establishing the Letters to Dad Foundation, an outlet to help students and faculty cope with grief.  

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When Hannah Kreuziger was a senior in high school, she lost her dad unexpectedly. And everything changed.

“It was a very difficult time,” recalls Kreuziger, who graduated from Emory’s Oxford College on May 15. “I was coming up on all the major milestones, like college acceptance, graduation, senior prom, my eighteenth birthday, all these events.” And suddenly, her father was not there to share them.

A high school counselor, seeing Kreuziger’s struggle with grief, suggested she start writing letters to her dad as a coping mechanism to, as Kreuziger puts it, “get through it in a healthful way, a way to communicate with him. It really brought me a lot of solace.”

The counselor also suggested that Kreuziger one day compile her letters and keep or publish them, but she had other ideas.

Kreuziger’s letters to her dad have now become the inspiration for the Letters to Dad Foundation, a nonprofit organization aimed at helping students, faculty and staff grieve in healthy, helpful ways and form communities of support. The Letters to Dad Foundation is a multimedia outlet containing podcast episodes, blog posts, Instagram posts and events to help students and faculty cope with their grief.

“I definitely knew I wanted to use the experience in a way that was applicable for other students and faculty who are going through what I’ve gone through,” she says. “I always knew I was going through it for a reason, and that it would end up helping people.”

That desire to help others began to take shape after arriving at Emory’s Oxford College in fall 2019. Kreuziger says she loved coming to Oxford and Emory, “but I did feel really alone in my circumstance, because it was rare that I met any other student who had just lost their dad before college.”

That feeling eased somewhat after Kreuziger met other students and faculty “who had experienced loss, who understood what I was going through because they were going through it as well,” she says. “So I knew that was something I wanted to pursue, creating a community for students, faculty and staff, to feel understood, heard and supported. I think that with grief, half the battle is feeling like you’re not alone.”

It was through Gary Glass, a counselor at Oxford, that Kreuziger connected with Oxford and Emory chaplains Lyn Pace and Greg McGonigle, who provided advice, financial support and connections that allowed her to develop the Letters to Dad website.

Kreuziger also has received support and advice from Emory senior Rohini Guin, who started Emory’s “Healing Through Art” virtual gallery for members of the Emory community to share about grief, loss and other changes through creative expression.

The Letters to Dad Foundation began holding virtual contemplative practices and more online events beginning in March 2021.

“We see the Letters to Dad project as a way to allow for more community building and interaction,” says McGonigle, “where people have the opportunity to write short letters and share what they’ve lost as a way of making sense of it.”

McGonigle echoes the sentiments of his colleague Glass in emphasizing that “grief is not a mental illness; grief is the thing that happens to us when we lose someone or something that we really love.”

At this year’s Oxford Commencement, Kreuziger was recognized with the Virgil Y.C. Eady Sophomore Service Award, bestowed on a student who has demonstrated outstanding and selfless service to the college community and the only student award presented during the ceremony.

In announcing the award, Oxford Dean of Students Joseph Moon said of Kreuziger in the citation: “When you see need, or someone in pain, you have the motivation, integrity and sheer will to be part of the solution. Your proven leadership, scholarship and kind-heartedness suggest the kind of citizen you will be in the larger Emory community and beyond.”

Kreuziger says she is “so thankful to be the recipient of this high honor” and “appreciative that my efforts have been recognized as truly helping the Oxford and Emory community, because that has always been my goal.” She looks forward to continuing her journey on the Atlanta campus this fall as she pursues a double major in psychology and German studies.