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University, College honor Class of 2012 valedictorians

John Cameron | Wednesday, May 16, 2012


For 2012 valedictorian Michael O’Brien, the sense of community and core values during his class’s time at the University will be the foundation of a positive outlook of the “real world” he and his peers soon face.

“I think [in my address] I’m maybe a bit more realistic about what’s next for us, about the realities of the world outside of Notre Dame, which, as we’ve seen, is pretty filled with divisiveness,” he said.

O’Brien, a political science major from St. Charles, Ill., is attuned to the social and political state of the world, as he has been working hard on research on international relations set to be published this summer.

“This summer I’ll be working with [political science professor] Sebastian Rosato on an article that will be published by the Nobel Institute, which is pretty cool,” O’Brien said. “Then we’ll try to publish it in a U.S. journal of international relations.”

O’Brien said he considers this and other research opportunities he has taken advantage of at Notre Dame to be the most rewarding part of his University experience.

“In terms of academics, [my most valuable experience] was writing a senior thesis,” he said. “It was a long, extended project that forces you to pick up skills in research and argumentation on your own.” 

Between his dedication to his research projects and maintaining a 4.0 grade point average, O’Brien said finding balance was a priority throughout his collegiate career.

“[Notre Dame offers] good opportunities to balance your life,” he said. “Football on Saturdays, research projects, different courses, even finding things to do in South Bend.”

O’Brien said he found recluse from the rigors of his academics in extracurricular activities and leadership roles around campus, including serving as president of College Democrats.

“[College Democrats is] something I got involved with early by working with the Obama campaign freshman year,” he said. “The other thing I really enjoyed was being vice president of service for Circle K. It was really gratifying … and we had a great variety of students that worked together.”

O’Brien, who recently earned a full-tuition Rubenstein Scholarship to the University of Chicago Law School, said he attributes his academic achievements to his pursuit of his interests, not just what was practical or easy.

“It’s just about being really passionate about what I do,” he said. “I don’t think I would have been successful if I came in and did business or chemistry because I don’t feel the same draw to those things. My work excited me, and that’s an important part of doing well.”

For underclassmen and members of the incoming freshman class, O’Brien suggests a similar approach to academics and college in general.

“I’d say they should take seriously the many different opportunities Notre Dame gives you and to try your hand at all of them,” he said, “Look for new things in your interdisciplinary requirements, sciences, philosophy and theology to see what catches your interest. Also, take advantage of the different research and service opportunities Notre Dame has … just to seek balance in your life. And have fun.”