Clarkston Melody Maker Wins Scholarship

Teen has passion for those ‘who need a voice’
Emily Hermann, a recent Clarkston High School graduate who spearheaded the installation of an outdoor musical playground for a Girl Scout project, has won a Spirit of Anne Frank Scholarship Award from The Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect. Photo courtesy of Emily Hermann

The joyful sound of music made possible by a Clarkston teen has echoed all the way to New York City.

Emily Hermann, a recent Clarkston High School graduate who spearheaded the installation of an outdoor musical playground for a Girl Scout project, has won a Spirit of Anne Frank Scholarship Award from The Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect. Based in Manhattan, the center honors Frank and the continuing relevance of her diary by promoting respect for all humanity.

To mark Frank’s birthday annually, the center awards scholarships to high school seniors who exemplify Frank’s ideals of hope, justice and equality, and have proven themselves exceptional leaders in combating intolerance and injustice in their schools and communities.

Prizes typically range from $1,000 to $5,000 depending on available funding, and go toward college tuition. Hermann won $5,000.

“I was going through my email and saw that I won and I was shocked,” Hermann says. “I called my mom and said, ‘Mom, we’re going to New York.’ ”

Hermann, 17, and her mother, Jennifer, flew to the Big Apple courtesy of the Anne Frank Center to attend the June 17 awards ceremony and gala. Three other students from across the country, a Lansing educator and others who uphold Frank’s ideals were also honored.

Emily Hermann at the Anne Frank Center awards ceremony and gala. Photo courtesy of the Anne Frank Center

Nearly 200 people entered the scholarship competition and four entries stood out, says Elisa Rapaport, Ph.D., chief operating officer for the Anne Frank Center.

“Emily’s was intensely creative,” Rapaport says. “She was addressing a genuine need in the community.”

Says Hermann, “I am so humbled that they chose my project.”

Neighborly Inspiration

As a 12-year Girl Scout, Hermann needed a community service project to help her earn the highest achievement, the Gold Award, which is the Girl Scout equivalent of Eagle Scout. She started brainstorming ideas as a freshman, but it wasn’t until 10th grade that inspiration struck. Her chamber choir classmate, Justin, who sat next to her, has Down syndrome and is nonverbal.

“Every day, I could hear him run down the hallway towards class,” she wrote in her scholarship entry essay. “Once inside the classroom, his face would light up with joy. It was clear he truly enjoyed being in choir class. Even though he couldn’t really sing, he would move to the beat of the music and sometimes hum along.

“He connected with music, he was able to engage, to feel emotions, to interact with students in a way he might not otherwise get to do. I got to thinking about all the students like him, how they learn … and that inspired me. Music is a universal language, it connects people together and I wanted everyone to feel included.”

Photo courtesy of Emily Hermann

She researched how music impacts people with special needs, a group she knows well after working at a summer camp, Clarkston SCAMP, for several years. She learned that music improves speech, motor skills and cognitive development, and promotes positive motivation and social interaction.

Her idea was born: introduce an outdoor musical playground that is built for all abilities.

“Music can benefit everyone,” she says.

Hermann raised money for the equipment, gathering more than $4,000 by setting up a post office box and a PayPal account.

“I raised funds by word of mouth basically,” she says. “Word spread that I was working on it and donations came in.”

Finding Harmony on Pinterest

Photo courtesy of Emily Hermann

Originally, Hermann planned to build the instruments herself using buckets and windchimes. She scoured Pinterest to research ideas, but stumbled on an ad for a Colorado-based company, Freenotes Harmony Park, which makes professional musical playground equipment shaped like flowers.

That’s about the time the Clarkston Area Optimist Club and the Friends of Depot Park Committee approached her.

They had heard Hermann wanted to put the instruments at her former elementary school, but they knew it would be the perfect addition to Clarkston’s Depot Park. Mayor Eric Haven, former chair of Friends of Depot Park, says the park was undergoing a transformation at the time.

“We wanted something that everybody could use and the instruments fit in well,” Haven says.

Hermann agreed. While she purchased four steel flowers, where each petal has a different sound when hit with an attached mallet, the Optimists funded a colorful xylophone called a serenade.

“Emily is a workhorse and she made this happen through her determination,” Haven says.

Hermann put 125 hours into the outdoor musical playground, all the while working at SCAMP and participating in extracurricular activities. She was drama club president, in her school’s top choir, costume maker for the musical and in the National Honor Society.

The scholarship will help her attend Grand Valley State University in the fall.

“I don’t know what my major will be yet,” she says, “but I have a passion to help those who need a voice.”