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Rossmann to give ND valedictory address

Aaron Steiner | Friday, May 18, 2007

After Michael Rossmann graduates on Sunday, his view of the ceremony will be different from his classmates’ experience.

A theology and economics double major from Iowa City, Iowa, Rossmann will graduate with a 4.0 overall G.P.A., earning him the coveted title of valedictorian and the privilege to deliver the valedictory address during the undergraduate commencement ceremony. His speech will last about 10 minutes, during which he’ll have a unique vantage point of the graduating class.

“It’s still overwhelming … kind of hard to believe, but very exciting, too – and I’m thankful as well,” Rossmann said of the honor.

He said he was chosen from a pool of approximately 16 students after submitting a copy of his speech, a résumé and other application materials shortly after spring break.

After an interview, Rossmann was notified of the decision to name him the top student in his graduating class.

He said he was honored and excited by the opportunity to speak at the commencement exercises.

“A lot of people who know me have been excited for me,” he said.

Rossmann joked that those who aren’t as familiar with him and might not know of his academic side say, “I was just so surprised.” He can understand people’s idea of what a valedictorian looks like – a person focused almost solely on academics – but Rossmann thinks he is different from that type of a person.

His time at Notre Dame has indeed touched on a lot more than academics.

Rossmann said he has had diverse experiences over the last four years through extracurricular activities, research, studying abroad and encounters with the hundreds of people he has met.

His service work at the Center for Social Concerns (CSC) has been especially significant, he said, as the center became “one of my homes on campus.”

“The friends I have made there have shaped my life in many different ways,” Rossmann said.

His time abroad – studying in Uganda during his sophomore year and returning to East Africa to work on a senior thesis – also had a significant impact on his impression of Notre Dame.

“My time in Uganda was extremely formative,” Rossmann said.

Rossmann said that among the many people on campus who have had an influence on him, his professors have been important, especially outside the classroom.

“I’ve had great relationships with a lot of my professors and their guidance has been incredibly beneficial,” he said.

Friends he has met through the CSC, his residence hall and daily Mass have also been important guiding forces in his life the last four years, he said.

And while he has grown academically and socially, Rossmann said the opportunities he has had to grow spiritually are what will lead him to the next chapter in his life.

“My faith development has been so significant,” he said.

Rossmann intends to pursue the priesthood next and will join the novitiate with the Jesuits in St. Paul, Minn. after graduation. The first two years at the novitiate are the first step in joining the order, Rossmann said, and are meant for “discovering if this is in fact for me.”

Studying for the priesthood was something he said he hadn’t really considered until he spent time at Notre Dame.

“I had never really thought about it until freshman year,” he said. “But during that year, I thought, ‘maybe I should be open to this.'”

It was later, during the fall of his sophomore year, that Rossmann said the question “really hit me.”

It was a long process to reach this point of discernment, Rossmann said, and he’s prepared to move on to a more serious consideration of a life of ministry.

“I’m ready to take this … to a different level,” he said.

Rossmann said he is currently unsure where a life in the priesthood would lead him, though he is open to many paths – including teaching at the university level, working and serving abroad, promoting social justice or just doing pastoral work, he said.

“I’m taking comfort in the fact that I don’t really have to know, at this point,” he said.

As for Sunday’s ceremony, Rossmann said he is excited to speak about things that are important to him. He said his address is focused on “the faith identity of Notre Dame … and what that means, living that out.”

“I’m tremendously thankful for this honor and opportunity,” he said.