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Distler awarded top honor

Maureen Mullen | Tuesday, May 2, 2006

During the week of spring break – while most students enjoyed a vacation from academic rigor – senior Catherine Distler spent every free moment writing her valedictory address.

As one of more than a dozen exemplary seniors nominated to give the class of 2006 commencement speech, Distler said she and the others selected were given three and a half weeks to write and submit a valedictory address. On April 24, Distler learned her speech was chosen as the May 21 graduation ceremony address.

“I was thrilled to find out, but it’s also a very humbling experience because with the honor comes the realization that so many people were instrumental,” Distler said. “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for friends and professors who helped along the way. I’m incredibly grateful to them.”

Distler, a double major in anthropology and pre-professional studies, will graduate with a 3.94 overall GPA and a 4.0 major GPA. She recently decided to attend Johns Hopkins University for medical school following graduation. Distler said she wants to study medicine because it is “the pragmatic and compassionate practice of medicine that can bring about social change.”

Her interest in medicine is very much connected to her dedication to social service, a devotion her time at Notre Dame reflects. Distler said she was a member of student government her first two years at Notre Dame and became very involved in the Center for Social Concerns (CSC) during her junior and senior years. She traveled to Calcutta, India in 2005 where she participated in an International Summer Service Project working for nine weeks at Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity home for the destitute and sick. She has also served as co-organizer of Notre Dame’s World AIDS Day Campaign and as a member of VOICE, the CSC’s student advisory board.

Distler said her experiences from student government and social service activities were largely “formative because of all the peers [she] has met.”

“They have been such important parts of my education,” she said. “I am impressed and lucky to have met so many Notre Dame students who blow me away.”

Distler’s commitment to service and the relationships she formed with her peers have rooted her valedictory speech in a theme that calls her fellow graduates to further action.

“Everyone can make a change and leave something worthwhile behind,” she said.

Distler said her speech centers on the special, unique Notre Dame education. “It’s about coming to Notre Dame and meeting peers and professors who change you and influence you,” she said. “It’s also about going out and encountering the world through the lens of Notre Dame, encountering the world and your community in a sincere way. Fundamentally, it’s about the greatness and uniqueness of the Notre Dame experience.”

Distler said she is more than prepared to give her speech.

“I think it will be such an exciting day,” she said. “I’ll be nervous, but I think more than anything I’ll be caught up in the excitement and nostalgia of commencement weekend.”