The lesson in getting lost
When her car was flagged down after making its sixth circle around campus, Stacy Ziarko ’03 knew she was at the right place. She and her family were lost touring UD, and a student heading to class stopped to offer directions.
“That to me was always the epitome of UD,” Ziarko said. “Someone was willing to step out of their daily life and what they were doing to help someone that looked lost.”
After being accepted to the University — the only college she applied to — she wanted to chase that sense of service and helpfulness. Ziarko sought out ways to make an impact on campus, including joining the women’s golf team. But her true love was something a little merrier, a service opportunity that has blossomed into a life fulfilled through volunteering.
“Christmas on Campus was my ‘thing.’ I fell in love with it on my tour, and then realized that I had to be a part of it,” Ziarko said.
Her first year at UD, she was partnered up with a child from a local elementary school through Christmas on Campus, UD’s annual celebration that welcomes the community to campus. After that, she was hooked. Ziarko joined the committee right after that and eventually became chair in her senior year.
In the two decades since she graduated from UD, she has been an active member in the Detroit alumni community, has chaired her class’s Reunion Weekend committee and most recently organized a special anniversary celebration for Christmas on Campus.
Ziarko and fellow alumni began calling up classmates and friends to get as many people out to Dayton for the 60th Christmas off Campus celebration Dec. 8, 2023.
She said she loves how Christmas on Campus brings people to campus to experience the UD community firsthand. When her mother visited one year, she was in awe of all the students who volunteered to give presents to local elementary school children.
“[My mother] would stand at KU Plaza and see ‘ants’ coming down from the dorm rooms. Only, it wasn’t ants but all the students with their gifts for their students,” Ziarko said. “You could stand there and you’d see nothing, and then in 10 minutes you just saw thousands of kids coming to be a part of this.”
Her call to service she said came from watching her mother, who ran for local office while Ziarko was a student at UD and still holds elected office in her hometown community.
“If there was a problem going on in her backyard, and if you are going to complain about it, you could help fix it,” Ziarko said of her mother’s spirit of service.
She also is led in service by the Scripture of Luke 12:48, which was ingrained in her during her time working for St. Jude Children's Hospital for a dozen years after graduating: “To whom much is given, much is expected.”
“My expectation to give back in my own personal life is that I will give back to my community, my university, whoever that might be, because I’m so passionate about the experience that I had there,” Ziarko said.
“My expectation to give back in my own personal life is that I will give back to my community, my university, whoever that might be, because I’m so passionate about the experience that I had there."
Volunteerism is one of three goals the University has set for the We Soar campaign, recognizing the power alumni like Ziarko have to share and grow the mission of UD.
Through volunteering in service of the University, Ziarko has grown her Flyer community. Her time on the Detroit community council and rallying alumni for Christmas on Campus has connected her with Flyers who graduated in the decades before and after her time at UD.
While on that first trip to campus Ziarko wound up lost, her UD community has helped find her direction, one that keeps moving forward and keeps UD in focus.