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University salutatorian reflects on time at Notre Dame

| Friday, May 18, 2018

When she was first accepted to Notre Dame, class of 2018 salutatorian Harisa Spahić wasn’t sure she wanted to come to the University. During the spring of her senior year of high school, the self-described “townie”, who was born in Germany to a Bosnian family and lived in Idaho before her family relocated to northern Indiana, was harboring some doubts about Notre Dame — namely its proximity to her home.

“I didn’t want to go to a school that was very close to my home,” Spahić said. “I’m also not Catholic nor religious so I was hesitant about that just because I went to public school. I didn’t know what it was going to be like. So, it was just the unknown. And then also I’m not the biggest fan of football.”

Still, Spahić eventually decided to come to Notre Dame. Four years later, she will graduate with a 4.0 cumulative GPA, having completed a major in biochemistry and minors in anthropology and science, technology and values. She will also graduate as an early inductee into Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society, a Marshall Scholar finalist, a four year member of the Dean’s List and a recipient of the 2018 Daniel and Anne Crossen Pre-Medical Student Award.

Spahić said her decision to come was largely due to her participation in the QuestBridge program, a scholarship program for low-income students, coupled with a visit to campus.

“I came on that spring visit weekend in the spring, and I think it was being able to actually experience academic, social and spiritual life on campus that really kind of took away a lot of that mystery and unknown,” she said. “I found out that Notre Dame is a fantastic place, and I do want to go there and I do fit in.”

Spahić said her decision to pursue a degree in biochemistry was a result of her interest in both biology and chemistry, and she chose her two minors because they helped expand her perspective on the sciences.

“I like biochemistry because … it gets the right level of what I like. So, it worked out for me,” she said. “Anthropology I picked because it was interesting. I took one anthropology class in my freshman year and I really liked it, so I just picked up the minor because it was easy and those have also been some of my favorite classes. It really kind of directed my interest in medicine.

“And the science, technology and values was primarily because of the interesting classes they offer and the perspective on science it offers … I think a lot of scientists sometimes get too dead set in their ways, and science is absolute, but when you actually start looking at science and the history of it and everything it’s not as absolute.”

Beyond the classroom, Spahić has been involved in two research labs — the Cancer Neurocognitive Translational Research Lab (CNTRL) and the Clark research lab. In addition to a job in the admissions office, she has also volunteered with a range of organizations, including Habitat for Humanity, the Center for Hospice Care, Social Justice in American Medicine Club and the Notre Dame chapter of Timmy Global Health.

Through her various activities, Spahić has traveled throughout the world. She went to Copenhagen to present research from the CNTRL and traveled to Ecuador to volunteer in a health clinic with Timmy Global Health. In addition, she participated in academic study abroad programs in Ireland and Greece.

Spahić said her engagement was sparked by a desire to interact with the world beyond Notre Dame.

“Notre Dame can be a bit of a bubble sometimes,” she said. “I think leaving the bubble was very important, especially because academics and things like that are so ingrained, but with community service and other outreach opportunities, getting to know other people that don’t necessarily go to Notre Dame, so exposing myself to people with different ways of thinking, backgrounds, was really important and what I wanted to do,”

Spahić said the key to balancing her many activities with her academics was prioritization. She also used yoga to help her de-stress during busy periods and said balance was important to healthy life.

“The thing I’ve taken most away from Notre Dame is having a balance of things,” she said. “And I think that comes into like academics, spiritually and socially, but then also family. So, having a great life doesn’t mean just being the best student you could possibly be, the best athlete you could possibly be, being the best anything you could possibly be — it’s just being the best person you could possibly be.”

In the fall, Spahić will enroll at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. She is interested in studying women’s health, and currently plans to become an OBGYN.

In offering advice for the community she is preparing to leave, she said students should have some direction but be willing to change their plans.

“Something I like to tell prospective students is draw your plan in pencil. Just so you have a plan, like it’s always good to have direction in life,” she said. “But always be open to new opportunities. So that’s the pencil part, be willing to erase thing and make a new plan. I think that was very important in my experience during Notre Dame.

”I didn’t expect to study abroad in all of the places I did, I didn’t expect to do all the research I did, I didn’t expect to join all the clubs I did. But it was just as the opportunities arose and my interests were piqued, I chose to do those. Definitely having flexibility with that regard would be my biggest piece of advice.”

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About Tom Naatz

Tom is a sophomore at University of Notre Dame. He is majoring in Political Science and Spanish and is originally from Rockville, Maryland.

Contact Tom