New SBA President Finds Inspiration From Late Father

Beth Herdmann is a woman in perpetual motion. Catch her if you can as she dashes off to her latest fundraiser, her latest human rights activism, or her latest task as the newly-elected president of Dayton Law’s Student Bar Association.
The evening of Dec. 7, 2016, was no different. After a full day of studying for finals, Herdmann was racing off to the Dean’s holiday reception to introduce Dean Andrew Strauss.
She barely had left her home in Beavercreek when her mother called from the British Virgin Islands, where she was vacationing with her father. “Where are you?” Joanne Herdmann asked. “Are you driving?”
Herdmann pulled her car over to the side of the road. “Dad died today,” her mother said. “He had a heart attack after snorkeling.”
That was the moment the crazy tilt-a-whirl ride of her life screeched to a halt. She could scarcely comprehend the loss of such a vital force as Daniel Herdmann, her biggest cheerleader. “He lived every day to the fullest, yet he managed to take care of everyone else,” she says.
She didn’t make it to the reception. Dean Lori Shaw delivered Herdmann’s speech, and a moment of silence was observed in honor of her father.
“I felt loved,” Herdmann recalls. “That means a lot. I chose UD for a reason. I don’t think they would know your name at most other law schools.”
The holiday reception was one of the few obligations Herdmann failed to meet after her father’s death. She toughed it through final exams the following week, all the while planning her father’s funeral with her two sisters in Chicago and offering support to her mother who remained in St. Thomas making arrangements.
You might expect the past four months to have been a time of slowing down, of taking time out for herself.
That didn’t happen.
Beth and Daniel Herdmann“Not once did I ask myself, ‘Do I not want to keep going?’” Herdmann says. “I know Dad is with me and that he’s proud of me. I’m not going to stop doing what he was proud of me for doing.”
If anything, she says, her jam-packed schedule has been good therapy: “Staying busy is keeping my mind off things. It is making me feel good to be involved with groups and to be making a difference, and to see other students excited and not just me.”
That drive, that determination to push on through, is an inheritance from her father. “He pushed himself very hard, yet he also was a very ethical and caring person,” says her mother, Joanne Herdmann. “That shaped her.”
It was her father, after all, who counseled Herdmann during high school when she wrestled with the choice between a career in fashion design and psychology in college.
Whatever her decision, her father predicted, “You’ll be the fiercest warrior with the best wardrobe.”
As an undergraduate Herdmann developed a keen interest in social work after taking a child abuse class. Herdmann graduated from UD in 2009 with a degree in psychology and earned a dual master’s degree in social services and law and social policy from Bryn Mawr College.
While working as a child advocate social worker in Philadelphia, Herdmann realized the social workers were often the true experts in a child’s case. She found herself whispering to the attorneys in court when they should object. “I realized that more people listen to the lawyer and not the social worker,” she says.
The experience rekindled her desire to become a lawyer. University of Dayton School of Law soon became the clear choice – not only because of her undergraduate affiliation, but also because of the Law School’s strong commitment to human rights.
CNN My Freedom DayHerdmann’s many roles include serving as program assistant for the Leadership Honors Program, a teaching assistant for the first year legal writing program, president of the Volunteer Student Law Project, and president of the Human Rights Awareness and Advocacy Group. The HRAA is a student group with more than 60 members which raises awareness about human rights issues locally and globally. She also helped Professor Adam Todd to develop a syllabus for UDSL’s human rights class.
“Our professors have rich, distinctive backgrounds and experiences, and it is great to have that opportunity to hear from them first-hand what they have done and what they are fighting for,” she says.
At 30, Herdmann is older than many of her classmates, but she doesn’t consider it a disadvantage. “When I’m in classes, I can take what we’re learning and apply it to real-world situations,” she says.
Lori Shaw agrees. “She brings a lot to the table because she didn’t come as an undergraduate,” says Shaw, associate dean for academic affairs and professor of lawyering skills. “She understands the significance of her work as a lawyer and the way the law can change someone’s life. You’re here to learn for your clients, and not just yourself, and that’s something that Beth really gets.”
Her classmates feel the same way. “Beth is one of the most friendly and hard-working individuals that I have met in law school,” says rising 3L Dana Jalanbo. “She is compassionate, understanding, and is always involved in the community and finding ways to help out for a good cause. Beth is someone I look up to, because I truly feel like she encompasses all the characteristics that would be found in a great and caring attorney.”
Herdmann, a rising 3L, hopes to continue making a difference as SBA executive president. Her newly-elected fellow officers include executive vice president Alex Laine-Gieringer; executive secretary Stephanie Schmalz; executive treasurer Matt Altick; and 3L representative Kevin Scharf.
“I am excited to be able to be the mouthpiece for the student body,” Herdmann says.
Her accomplishment is bittersweet, because she can’t share it with the man who inspired her: “While I lost my dad unexpectedly and didn't get to say goodbye, I knew how much he loved me and how proud he was of me, because he told me every day and showed me in his actions and our relationship. I wish he would have been here to see me graduate next year, to see me pass the bar, and to see me continue in his path.”
Beth Herdmann portraitThe past four months have been a challenge, Herdmann acknowledges: “But I have learned a lot about how much my dad meant to so many people, even people he barely knew, and I have learned a lot about myself. I have learned that there are so many things that seem important and stressful at the moment, but in the long run, do not matter. What matters in the end, is how you treat people, your relationships, being kind, and working hard.”
So in the midst of her studies and all of her other activism, Herdmann and her fellow students have raised more than $900 through basket raffles for her father’s favorite charity. At the time of his death Daniel Herdmann served as board chair of the COVE Alliance, which provides social services to orphaned and disadvantaged children in Uganda.
It’s one of many ways she is keeping her father’s legacy alive. “He was a leader and mentor to so many people through his career and life,” Herdmann says. “And I think the greatest way to honor his life is to follow in his footsteps.”
                                          -- Mary McCarty

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