Hannah Safford, BHDS '05
Posted March 24, 2011
One fencing lesson at the Renaissance Faire was all it took for Hannah Safford to fall in love with the sport.
After she tried it for the first time as a sixth grader, Hannah started fencing regularly at the Golden Gate Fencing Center in San Francisco. Hannah graduated from Brandeis Hillel Day School in 2005, and she continued competing during her four years at Lowell High School.
She now fences for Princeton University’s varsity women’s epee fencing team, which won the Ivy League championships for the first time in a decade this year. At school, she trains five days a week in addition to university meets, and she continues to compete in non-collegiate national and international tournaments. In addition, for the past two years, she has been an alternate to the U.S. National Team to the Junior World Championships.
Yet despite an impressive fencing career that has taken her all over the country and to Ireland, Slovakia, Germany, Austria, and Sweden, Hannah has never strayed far from her Brandeis Hillel Day School roots. Her experiences at Brandeis, and the relationship with Judaism that she cultivated during her time here, continue to be significant and relevant to her life. Hannah feels that the unconditional support she received at Brandeis from faculty, students, and parents continues to affect her tremendously. “I think the support I got from the BHDS community through elementary and middle school gave me the confidence and ability to take initiative that helped me to be successful in high school and college,” Hannah said. Her experiences at Brandeis also instilled a sense of community and self-identity in her, and encouraged her to become involved with the Center for Jewish Life at Princeton. Hannah said that “at college, everyone encourages you to try new things and to meet new people, which is excellent, but also exhausting. On Friday nights and on holidays, I enjoy going to the CJL because of the sense of familiarity. My time at Brandeis made me feel very comfortable around Judaism, and I value that comfort at Princeton.”
Hannah’s passions for fencing and Judaism united recently during a powerful and memorable experience. In 2009, she competed on the silver-medalist women’s epee fencing team at the 18th Maccabiah Games in Israel. Although she had been to Israel before, this trip offered her a whole new perspective. “It was really amazing seeing so many Jewish athletes from around the world walk into Ramat Gan stadium in Tel Aviv, and it was amazing to see how excited the country was for an event that gets so little publicity outside of Israel,” Hannah said. “Everywhere you went there were flags for the Games, and any time you told a shop owner or food vendor that you were a Maccabiah athlete they got really excited and happy for you. At Brandeis and at my synagogue, I focused a lot on experiencing Israel as a Jew. It was interesting to experience Israel as an athlete.” Hannah’s experience competing in Israel allowed her to see the country and her relationship to the Jewish community in a new light.
Outside of fencing, Hannah continues to pursue an active academic, social, and extracurricular life both at Princeton and during her summers back in San Francisco. In school, she studies chemical engineering with a concentration on energy and the environment. Although she is not sure where her career path will take her, she wants to find a job related to environment and wildlife preservation in the future. Hannah’s love for animals has manifested itself in two particular extracurricular opportunities. She was one of the founders of the Bee Team—a beekeeping club—at Princeton, and she will be an administrator in the club this year. She has also been a volunteer at the San Francisco Zoo since the 6th grade. This summer, she returned to the Zoo as a paid intern for the Talk on the Wild Side Program. When she is not teaching others about animals during her summer vacations, Hannah enjoys spending time with her Brandeis friends. “The friends I made at Brandeis truly feel like family, in the sense that I can not see them for six months or a year and then feel totally natural and excited to reunite with them,” Hannah said. “I’m more excited to see my Brandeis friends when I come home for college breaks than I am to see my high school friends.”