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Co-valedictorians to address 2017 College graduates

| Friday, May 19, 2017

Caps off to Saint Mary’s 2017 valedictorians, Elise deSomer, a studio art and English literature double major from South Bend, and Brianna Kozemzak, a computing and applied mathematics major from Eagan, Minnesota. The two will address the Class of 2017 at this year’s Commencement on May 20.

Editor’s note: Kozemzak declined to comment.

DeSomer said the welcoming and accepting College campus community consistently empowered her to do her best work.

“The whole women’s college ethos is something really unique that I don’t regret at all,” deSomer said. “I love how the small-campus vibe is sort of like a small town. There’s something really nice about coming to Saint Mary’s and feeling like you’re at home.”

The College fosters values of accountability and respect for others through its emphasis on small class sizes, deSomer said.

“I’ve really learned a strong work ethic here — how to be accountable to professors and deadlines, not just because adhering to deadlines is important in a type of capitalist way but because your professors are humans,” she said. “You have to respect the interpersonal relationships between professors and students. You have to recognize the inherent worth and dignity of other people’s time.”

Students should strive to engage socially while succeeding academically, deSomer said.

“My advice would be to maintain a healthy study and social balance,” she said. “It’s easy to go to extremes in the opposite direction, so just know that you have to build those memories.”

Having fun in college does not necessarily have to come at the expense of earning good grades, deSomer said.

“Be adventurous,” she said. “Do things with friends, but still study hard. Study on the train to Chicago or something.”

Her Saint Mary’s education exposed deSomer to the harsh realities women and other vulnerable populations face, she said.

“It’s completely opened my eyes to the different types of oppression that women and minorities face,” deSomer said.

She said she was reminded of the enduring sisterhood the Saint Mary’s community shares when she and students she tutored at the Writing Center walked back to their dorms together after late night sessions.

“It just really reinforced that at Saint Mary’s, we have each other’s backs,” deSomer said. “We look out for each other. That’s provided me with really profound bonding experiences.”

Last summer, she earned a Student Independent Study and Research (SISTAR) grant to study object-oriented ontology — a philosophical analysis of existence that views objects as equal — with art professor Krista Hoefle. DeSomer said this mode of understanding the universe calls into question the power dynamics that humans learn from young ages.

“It’s a way of viewing the world without hierarchies,” she said. “It’s not just saying minorities are equal to the majority, or animals [are] equal to people or plants should vote, too. It’s just thinking of things from what we call a non-anthropocentric viewpoint.”

Though decentralizing the human experience can sound intimidating, doing so fosters a deeper understanding of the inherent, useful properties of seemingly ordinary objects, deSomer said.

“It’s just thinking of a democracy of objects,” she said. “It’s not saying that objects have colonies, and they’re like people too. It’s not anthropomorphizing. It’s just seeing the world in more of an interconnected mesh, rather than a hierarchal structure.”

She said undergoing this research project was one of the defining moments in her time at Saint Mary’s.

“It was really eye-opening, because what it asks of you is to remove your way of seeing the world that you’ve had since birth,” deSomer said. “There’s a plethora of worldviews that I didn’t even consider, and that’s really gotten me to open my mind about other theories.”

Working alongside a professor prepared her for potential future collaborations, deSomer said.

“The learning experience of working closely with another professor really prepared me for graduate level research, and showed me how to work in a collaborative, artistic and academic environment,” deSomer said.

She said she plans to take these skills with her as she prepares to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) while continuing to schedule appointments for her photography business, Elise imagery. DeSomer said Saint Mary’s has left a lasting impression on her mind and heart, so she looks forward to giving a valedictory address.

“I’ve been given this really nice privilege to be able to represent Saint Mary’s, and that means a lot to me because I love everything that Saint Mary’s represents,” she said. “I’ll miss this place.”

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About Martha Reilly

Martha is a senior majoring in English literature and political science. She currently serves as Saint Mary's editor but still values the Oxford comma in everyday use.

Contact Martha