Anna Kottkamp named ND valedictorian
Margaret Hynds | Friday, May 15, 2015
Senior Anna Kottkamp — the class of 2015 valedictorian — learned early on in her college career that success would require a careful balancing act.
A member of the Glynn Family Honors Program hailing from Wenatchee, Washington, Kottkamp has immersed herself in a wide array of extracurricular activities ranging from varsity rowing to the Voices of Faith Gospel Choir to research and service in South Bend and abroad.
Through it all, the environmental science major has maintained a 4.0 grade point average (GPA) and earned a spot on the Dean’s List each semester that she has been on campus — a feat she attributes to finding an area of study that fascinated her.
“I started out, as many people did, going into pre-med classes and pursuing a pre-med track,” she said. “I thought that was super interesting and maybe something that I wanted to do, but then I worked in a clinic the summer after my freshman year. I quickly realized it just wasn’t my passion.
“I had always been interested in natural systems and the natural world and especially how land use both effects humans and is affected by humans. That was a big turning point, when I switched my majors to environmental science.
“ … It was probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, because I just love my classes all the time. I love what I’m learning and think that’s one of the most important things for academic success — it’s about doing what you love.”
Of her status as a varsity athlete, Kottkamp said it had certainly proved a challenge, but a welcome one, especially in her first few months at the University.
“[Being an athlete] makes a difficult transition for anyone even more difficult. You come into Notre Dame thinking about being a student first, and then you throw the word ‘athlete’ on there,” she said. “I didn’t realize how big of a time commitment being in athletics was initially, so it just makes you have to shift some of your priorities. But in some ways, that’s a really good thing.
“ … It forces you to choose things that you care about, the things that are going to be your priorities, and to pick those involvements and do them very well. There are so many awesome ways to be involved on campus, that I would have just been overwhelmed if I had tried to do all the things that I initially wanted to.”
Although she walked onto the rowing team her freshman year without competitive experience, Kottkamp now has a full athletic scholarship and is an NCAA Elite 89 award winner, Atlantic Coast Conference Scholar-Athlete of the Year, Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association National Scholar-Athlete and ACC postgraduate scholarship recipient, the press release said. She is also a member of the athletics department’s Rosenthal Leadership Academy.
Off the water, Kottkamp said she had made use of several University programs and grants allowing her to go abroad for her interdisciplinary studies.
“After my sophomore year, I interned in Peru because I’m also studying international development,” she said. “That was related to agriculture and being in the jungle … but it was an awesome first experience internationally, and that led me to my second summer [abroad].
“[This past summer], I was in Bolivia working for an organization that works with farmers in the highlands. Their situation is inspiring because they face a lot of environmental challenges, and they have to be really resilient and adaptable in the face of that.”
Reflecting on her time at the University, Kottkamp said she had relied heavily on her community and her family.
“I’m not perfect at all, and I don’t think that’s what I’m pretending to be,” she said. “I’ve been really blessed with opportunities and support from others to pursue whatever it is that I love. That’s been key, and that takes a lot of hard work that you can’ t do on your own.
“The availability of mentors and friends in my life that have pushed me and challenged me but also freed me to pursue those things has been incredible. My parents have never put any pressure on me in that way — they’re just proud of who I am, and that has allowed me to go far.”
Paraphrasing a quote by writer George Bernard Shaw, Kottkamp said that discovering her passion and actively pursuing it was a key part of her success.
“Honestly, that’s been the best thing for me … realizing that life is about making yourself,” Kottkamp said. “And a lot of that comes from taking time to decide what is really important to you and then pursuing what you love day in and day out.
“You can’t get tired of it and you can’t be disappointed with yourself because you’re doing what you love. No matter what happens — if you have a bad test or anything like that — you’re always willing to go further and try again.”
According to a University press release naming her as the valedictorian, Kottkamp plans to help develop educational programming for fifth-graders at the Columbia Gorge Ecology Institute in Oregon as part of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps before pursuing graduate education in environmental science.
Kottkamp will deliver the valedictory address at the University commencement ceremony May 17.