University 2017 valedictorian reflects on journey to graduation
Selena Ponio | Friday, May 19, 2017
The class of 2017 valedictorian, Caleb “C.J.” Pine, said growing up in Tianjin, China was what sparked his interest in culture and conflict.
“Being an American who lived in China for 18 years, I was really interested in questions of culture and conflict and how I saw myself as a bridge who could get involved in cultural understanding,” Pine said.
Pine, a Truman Scholar and a Gilman Scholar, is an Arabic and peace studies major with a minor in philosophy, politics and economics (PPE). Also a member of Notre Dame’s Glynn Family Honors Program and a Hesburgh-Yusko Scholar, Pine is graduating with a 3.92 cumulative GPA and will intern at the Bureau of International Organization Affairs within the State Department in Washington, D.C.
Pine said one of the reasons he came to Notre Dame was because of the peace studies program. He said Arabic was something he started from scratch when he came to Notre Dame, but that his first exposure to Islam was when he moved to western China, where his dad was conducting research on the area’s Muslim community.
“I was interested in just learning,” Pine said. “I started freshman year and had the chance to spend my summer in Jordan, and was able to study abroad in the Middle East, as well, and it kind of just developed from there.”
Pine spent two semesters studying abroad during his time at Notre Dame. His first study abroad experience was at Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem during his spring 2015 semester, and his second experience was at Princess Sumaya University of Technology in Jordan during his spring 2016 semester.
During his undergraduate career, Pine has focused on refugees and promoting interreligious dialogue. He completed an internship last summer at the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Religion and Global Affairs, studying religious dynamics in Burma and working with religious communities in the U.S. to support refugee resettlement. While studying abroad in Jerusalem, Pine also volunteered his time to teach English at a Palestinian refugee camp.
“My interest in working with refugees was definitely sparked by the fact that my freshman year and throughout all of college, the refugee crisis has been such a huge humanitarian crisis, and … our generation has come to adulthood with this going on in the world,” he said. “Given the fact that I was interested in culture and religion and conflict, I felt that this was a specific case that I wanted to dive into and to apply peace studies.”
Pine organized Solidarity With Syria, a student advocacy group and awareness campaign with the goal of countering Islamophobia on campus. He also helped found Road to Mafraq, a nonprofit that seeks to increase access to education for children affected by violence in the Middle East, but focusing specifically on Syrian and Iraqi refugees in Jordan.
“When I decided to attend Notre Dame, I was excited about the mission statement — the idea that there’s this learning of service and justice,” Pine said. “There’s this sense of being very honored and blessed to represent the mission statement and the desire to live out that mission statement.”
Pine, a resident of Siegfried Hall, said his time at Notre Dame was largely defined by all the relationships he established with both his friends and professors. He said he recently experienced a moment in the dorm he lived in for four years when the reality of graduation suddenly hit him.
“We had to take down the decorations on our wall for room inspections,” Pine said. “My room has been more bare, and I think it started to hit me. It became a little more real that I’ll be moving out soon, and I started to think about my last day of class and things wrapping up.”
Graduating alongside the people that became friends and family to him during his time at the University is particularly humbling, Pine said.
“I feel very honored, very blessed to have the opportunity to represent the class of 2017 and to reflect on what has been most significant about the Notre Dame experience, and what it means to belong to the Notre Dame community,” he said. “I’m proud to be a part of the class of 2017, and I’m excited see where the future takes all of us and the way we can apply all the things we learned here at Notre Dame.”