Student shows 'invincible' drive
French philosophers being one of her varied interests, when Rochester native Danielle Augustson thinks of the path she has taken to the doorstep of prestigious Georgetown University Law Center, which she will attend this fall, she might contemplate the words of Albert Camus: "In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer."
At 24, Augustson seems to have relied on an inner flame as she followed a stony road to this point. She grew up in a low-income, single-parent household. Her adoptive father, Dan Stonionis, died in January 2008 in a boating accident. Her brother, Brandon Stonionis, committed suicide two years later.
Through the pain and heartbreak, she somehow maintained her focus and drive.
"I almost dropped out (of college), but didn't," she said. "I'm glad I didn't."
She graduated an honors student. Today, she works as a volunteer in Mark Andrew's campaign for Minneapolis mayor. She volunteers teaching English and French, serves refugees and is an international student mentor, too.
At Georgetown, Augustson plans to get a law degree, then a master's degree in foreign services. She sees her future in international relations.
"I anticipate we will see Danielle working in the White House someday," said her mother, Tonya Stonionis. "She said she would love to be Secretary of State."
Augustson, who changed her last name from Stonionis since graduating from Century High School in 2007, was a memorable and well-liked student, said Hal Houghton, an English teacher who had Augustson in several classes.
"If you ask most of her teachers, they'll remember Danielle," he said. "She just has a contagious personality, and impacted those around her.
"She was always one of those kids that you figure, 'Well, when she decides what she wants to do, she's going to go out and do it,'" Houghton said.
Gaining admission to Georgetown wasn't easy. Though Augustson had a 3.76 grade point average at the University of Minnesota, her LSAT score was a few points below what the school typically requires for admission.
But "I wanted to go there so badly," she said. "I was put on their wait list. I did as much as I could on my application. I went and visited."
Then she was nudged onto the school's "preferred wait list."
"As soon as I found that out, I booked a trip out there just to introduce myself," she said. "And I wrote them four or five letters of continued interest, that said everything I was doing. Then I ended up getting in.
"It was because I stalked them, basically," she said with a laugh."I'm really, really motivated."
Others recall that quality about her, including Ron Ray, who was Augustson's boss in high school, when she worked at Caribou; and Cathe Jones, Augustson's current roommate, and her best friend dating back more than a dozen years, to when the two were Rochester classmates.
"She was always doing things out of the ordinary from what other kids were doing," Ray said. Her goal at Caribou, he said, was to be prepared to become a shift manager when she turned 18, the age the position requires. She did it, he said.
"We always joked that … even though we have some pretty stark differences in our beliefs on things, she said, 'When I'm president, you can be my press secretary,'" Ray said.
Jones says she will miss her friend when she moves to Washington, D.C., but she's proud of her.
Like Augustson, Jones is "half-adopted" and had a brother who killed himself.
"It brought us closer," Jones said. "I think it (her brother's death) motivated her more to do something."