Class of ’23: ROTC Cadet Hannah Shapiro Paints a Portrait in Leadership

April 18, 2023 By Matt Kelly, Matt Kelly,

Hannah Shapiro came to the University of Virginia still suffering from the tragedy of her older brother’s suicide, fearing she would wither.

Instead, she blossomed.

“Following my brother’s death, I had a really cynical perspective, that I was just going to be grieving and sad forever, and that I was alone in that sadness,” said Shapiro, a member of the Honor Committee and the U.S. Army ROTC battalion commander.

“Coming here, I’ve learned how to get out of my own way and not to use the circumstances of my life to hold me back, but to allow them to propel me forward. I’ve learned that you can always find happiness, no matter what you’ve been through, and that the people around you care to hear your story and care to propel you through life, if you let them in.”

For Shapiro, “learning to love Charlottesville and to love the people around me gave me a lot of happiness that I just wasn’t expecting.”

She came to UVA as a member of the Army ROTC program, which pleased her father, a U.S. Military Academy graduate.

“He always hoped one of his seven children would join the Army,” she said. “He definitely didn’t think it was going to be me. But he challenged me to find my own way of going to college and succeeding.”

Her interest in ROTC blends with her desire to become an attorney, an ambition held since childhood.

“My parents have always told me that I was going to be a lawyer, which I later realized wasn’t a compliment,” she said. “I have a strong attraction to justice and what’s right and wrong. I’ve seen the way that you can make an influence on somebody’s life by being there for them in a really difficult moment.”

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Portrait of Hannah Shapiro in her U.S. Army uniform
Shapiro will enter the UVA School of Law in the autumn, with an eye toward a military law career. (Photo by Christopher Nguyen)

The Cape Coral, Florida, native, who is double-majoring in economics and political philosophy, policy and law, will enter the UVA School of Law in the autumn, with a goal of becoming a military lawyer. She then plans to do her military training at the Judge Advocate General School in Charlottesville.

Last fall, Shapiro was commander of the 55-member Cavalier Battalion. She found her leadership skills tested after three UVA students were slain and two others wounded in a shooting on Grounds.

“It definitely was proof that I wasn’t practicing at being a leader,” Shapiro said. “I was just a leader. And I had a real impact on the people who were around me. I knew the way that I behaved was going to affect them.”

U.S. Army Lt. Col. Isaac Rademacher, commander of the UVA Army ROTC command, praised Shapiro for her reactions.

“Throughout that night, Hannah kept in contact with the groups of ROTC cadets spread across Grounds looking after each other,” he said. “She informed the ROTC cadre very early in the evening that all of the cadets were accounted for and safe, which showed excellent initiative on her part.”

The incident reaffirmed Shapiro’s commitment to the military.

“It made me more passionate about joining the military and about being in ROTC because of the people I was with,” she said. “My peers jumped into action, calling and texting everybody in the program, making sure that they were OK, keeping tabs on them.”

Shapiro’s leadership skills also extended to the University’s student-run Honor Committee, which administers the honor system.

“I served as an honor adviser for my first two years, case processing, representing students and faculty,” she said. “Then in my third year, I served as senior support officer, which meant that I organized and conducted all the training for the incoming honor advisers. And then my most recent role has been as an elected representative for the College of Arts & Sciences on the Honor Committee. So I think I’ve seen all facets of honor at UVA.”

Shapiro, whose bid to chair the Honor Committee failed, said she favors a multi-sanction system.

“I always erred on the side of wanting more means of expression for students,” she said. “There was something missing in a single-sanction system, where students weren’t able to communicate the kind of the rehabilitation that they wanted for their fellow students, the kind of community that they wanted to create at UVA.  I’m happy to see a multi-sanction system that includes expulsion, because I think it provides the most robust system of students’ self-expression when it comes to creating their own community of trust.”

Shapiro said she may continue her work with the Honor Committee from the Law School, and said she sees the Honor Committee and the ROTC as sharing values and principles.

“She is not afraid to speak up and not afraid to question the main arguments and ideas presented in class,” Coppock said. “She thinks at a very high level and communicates her thoughts clearly.  She is super smart, but also works hard. She has good natural intuition to hone in on the weak point in an argument and tackle it head-on. She pushed everyone in the class, me included, to think about our subject matter in new and deeper ways.”

“One of the Army values is ‘honor and integrity,’ so it’s easy to see where my role in Honor and promoting honesty and truthfulness and a community of trust at UVA plays into my role with ROTC, because as an ROTC student, you are upholding those same values,” Shapiro said.

Rademacher described Shapiro as “intelligent and engaged.”

“She recognizes the areas where she still has much to learn and she seeks information to fill those gaps,” he said. “I regularly count on her to contribute to our classroom discussions about leadership in the Army and the various challenges leaders face working through the human dimension of our leadership challenges.”

Economics professor Lee Coppock described Shapiro as an exceptional student.

Great Minds Put to Good Use, Learn More
Great Minds Put to Good Use, Learn More

English professor Anna Martin-Beecher lauded Shapiro’s writing.

“Her prose has a natural quality, with sentences that flow like thought,” Martin-Beecher said. “Having gotten to know her as a person over the last few years, I can say that Hannah Shapiro is someone I truly admire. She has given so much of herself to her time at UVA and her tenaciously joyful nature shines in all that she does.”

Shapiro has a broad portfolio of service from her years at UVA, including a term as president of the Chabad Jewish Heritage Student Association and committee chair of the Bandana Project, promoting mental health. She is a member of Zeta Tau Alpha sorority and a committee member of the Hoothon Dance Marathon. She worked as a legal intern for the XVIII Airborne Corps Office of the Staff Judge Advocate in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and as researcher and a legal intern for the Grungras Consultancy in Tel Aviv, Israel.

She said she has learned deep lessons at UVA.

“On a surface level, I’ve learned how to be an adult and how to be a roommate,” she said. “I’ve also learned how to be a classmate and a community member and a contributor to the society that I’m a part of, whether it was through my sorority, through the Army, through the Honor Committee, through the volunteer organizations. Being part of those organizations taught me the importance of really stepping into the city and the school that you go to, giving back to it and learning about it, and its history and its flaws.”

And she has learned perseverance.

“I have learned that you can and should lead from any position you are in, regardless of whether it is an ‘official’ leadership position,” Shapiro said. “Every person can think critically and improve the organization they are a part of. A lot of leading happens unofficially, by people leaving strong positive influences on those around them. I am not sure of the official positions that I will hold in the future, but I know that no matter where I am or what I am doing, that I will strive to be a leader to those around me.”

Media Contact

Matt Kelly

University News Associate Office of University Communications