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SMC announces graduation program

Anna Boarini | Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Saint Mary’s College announced the valedictorian and commencement speaker for this year’s graduation ceremony Wednesday.

The distinction of valedictorian was awarded to recent graduate Samantha Wassel. Therese Johnson Borchard, a 1993 alumna of the college, will give the commencement address.

Wassel, from New Carlisle, Ind., graduated early in December with a degree in English writing and a minor in mathematics.

Wassel said she is honored to receive the distinction. She also served as valedictorian for her high school class in 2007.

“Our graduating class includes so many incredible and talented women, and its such a privilege to represent my peers in an academic capacity,” Wassel said.  “Being valedictorian has also helped me feel connected to the college despite my early graduation, because it’s forced me to reflect on my time at Saint Mary’s and to think about what I would like to say to my peers during my address at the graduation ceremony.”

Though Wassel was named valedictorian of her high school class, she said she never aimed to repeat the honor.

“My main goal was simply to make the most of my academic experience at Saint Mary’s,” Wassel said. “Being named valedictorian was a byproduct of that goal, and I am honored to have earned the distinction, but it was never my main focus in college.”

Wassel said she started majoring in chemistry, but decided to switch to English, something she is more passionate about. 

“I write because I feel compelled to do so and because I find a great deal of joy and fulfillment in the creative process,” she said.

During her college career, Wassel ran cross-country and was a member of the editorial board for Chimes, Saint Mary’s literary magazine. 

Wassel, who hopes to earn a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing, said she wants to stress to underclassmen the importance of following their passions during their time at Saint Mary’s.

“You really just have to follow your heart academically.  Four years of college, especially somewhere as academically rigorous as SMC, is challenging enough as it is,” she said. “There’s no reason not to spend as much of that time as possible studying something you enjoy.”

This year’s commencement speaker is also a member of the Saint Mary’s community. Borchard graduated from the College in 1993 with a degree in religious studies and earned a Masters of Theology from the University of Notre Dame.

Borchard is now a mental health blogger, and has written several books on the subject. 

“I am devoted to this line of work since I have struggled first-hand with depression and other mood disorders,” she said. “It is my way of making lemonade out of lemons and giving back.”

Borchard said she is honored to serve as commencement speaker at her alma mater.

“I don’t think even winning a Pulitzer Prize would mean more, because so much of who I am was formed during my four years at Saint Mary’s,” she said.

Borchard said she hopes to share the aspiration of living an authentic life with the Saint Mary’s community.

She said students should not hold back because they fear rejection and failure. The speaker at her graduation, Surgeon General Antonia Novella, passed on advice that still rings true today.

“I remember her speaking about the empowerment of women today, that we are all capable of making substantial contributions to the world,” Borchard said. “I also remember thinking to myself that I should never ever smoke another cigarette.”

Borchard said Saint Mary’s sense of community had the biggest impact on her college experience. 

“My Saint Mary’s friends are still among my best friends, the godmothers of my two children, and I still keep in touch with my professors”, she said. “They invested so much time and energy into their students, not to mention sharing their wisdom. That kind of care and support today is unusual and I feel very blessed to have benefited from it.”

Senior Sarah Mayer said she was excited to find out who would be speaking at graduation and is interested to hear what they will say.

“I like that [Borchard] is an alumna and I just hope she can connect with us,” senior Sarah Mayer said. “I do not really care how successful she is, I just want an engaging speech and I am sure that she will deliver.”