The President of the Federal Republic of Germany, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, awarded Eastern Michigan University professor Carla Damiano with the Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, the highest honor given by Germany.
The honor was presented to professor Damiano by the Consul General of the Federal Republic of Germany, Wolfgang Moessinger, in a Ceremony of Bestowal which took place on EMU’s campus Sept. 29. The Order of Merit is the German award is applicable to all fields and may be given to both native Germans and foreigners for achievements in political, economic, social, or intellectual fields.
Carla Damiano is a professor of German language and literature at EMU and also works with EMU Director of Jewish Studies Martin Shichtman to teach literature written during and after the Holocaust by Jewish people in and outside of Germany.
Professor Damiano was caught off-guard by the award. As an American with partial German heritage, which she didn’t explore until well after determining her career path, this was something she never expected or would have even thought to achieve.
“Back in junior high school, I decided that I wanted to be a teacher,” Damiano said. “But it wasn’t in my wildest dreams that I would teach German.”
A trip to Europe led Damiano to a new passion in the German language and culture, and she brought that passion back to the U.S. with a desire to teach it.
“I was a passionate basketball player in high school and in college, and I took a trip with a touring team to Europe for four weeks, two of which we spent in Germany,” Damiano said. “And when we got back I started taking German.”
Once Damiano finished college, she went back to Germany to play professional basketball for a year.
“In life, you have encounters that influence you, and they may be things you never dreamed of doing,“ Damiano said. "They just might have never been on your radar, and then when you travel to new places and meet people, the world kind of opens up to you.”
The path that professor Damiano took, which ultimately led her to receiving the highest honor of Merit from Germany, was not a straight line. This is what she wants students, and even other professors and staff, to take from and have as inspiration.
“I think what I want to say to my students, and really to anybody, is to not be afraid to try new things,“ Damiano said. "You could find a passion in something unexpected, and it could completely change your life.”