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Notre Dame valedictorian, Marshall Scholarship recipient shares philosophy, passions

| Friday, May 17, 2019

When senior Sofia Carozza first arrived on campus, she knew she wanted to take as many risks as she could, especially if those risks scared her. This journey is what led her to shave her head for The Bald and the Beautiful, join Women’s Boxing and participate in Show Some Skin, among other activities.

It also may have led her into some of her accomplishments. Carozza was named valedictorian for the class of 2019 and in December she was named a recipient of the Marshall Scholarship. In the fall, Carozza will head to University of Cambridge in England to pursue a Ph.D.

“The only thing I knew I wanted to do when I got here was take as many risks as I could,” she said. “Basically anytime I heard something that someone else was doing and my first reaction was, ‘Oh, that scares me,’ that meant I had to do it.”

A self-described nerd, Carozza said she has always been interested in mental health and how the brain works, partially due to her own experiences with mental illness. This interest took form at Notre Dame as she chose to major in neuroscience and behavior with a supplementary theology minor as well as a minor in philosophy, politics and economics.

“I’ve always been fascinated by the human person and human behavior in particular,” Carozza said. “During high school I suffered from mental illness, … and several people who are dear to me either experienced trauma in their childhood or suffered from mental illness. So, it was really a way for me to look at the way that biology interacts with human experience to make us into who we are and to come to terms with the fact that who we are today is a product of our experience over a lifetime.”

Carozza is a Hesburgh-Yusko Scholar, a Glynn Family Honors Scholar and a de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture Sorin Fellow, but she said her community involvement has made the biggest impact in her life at Notre Dame. Carozza has spent her summers dedicated to the cause, tutoring children with developmental disabilities and psychiatric disorders in Paraguay, researching effects of stress on the brain and implementing ideas of community-based change in South Bend and beyond.

“I do some work with the juvenile justice center, and I’ve been involved with the Catholic Worker, and I’ve volunteered for several community organizations that do mental health related stuff for early childhood development stuff,” she said. “Those relationships with community members have really transformed the way that I think about my education and the potential and the responsibility that I have to put it in the service of other people, not just in some abstract future, but right now.”

Carozza is a South Bend native and has lived there her whole life. Still, Carozza didn’t see herself coming to Notre Dame. During decision season she was choosing between two schools — Harvard and Notre Dame. She said she chose Notre Dame because of the care she saw professors take with their jobs and their students.

“I went abroad my junior year of high school,” Carozza said. “After getting back, I was pretty sure that I wanted to go somewhere that wasn’t in South Bend because I had experienced more of a cosmopolitan city life, and I really wanted to pop the bubble a little bit. But it was over the course of my senior year when I realized that the things that were most meaningful to me were the relationships I had with really caring mentors and experiences that really helped me grow as a person.

“When I came here to visit, I was really blown away by the mission of the University and how that’s enacted on a personal level — that the professors are really here because they care about us and that students are looked at as their whole person. [They’re helped] to develop into who they’re called to be and how they’re called to serve the world.”

Looking forward, Carozza said she would love to return to Notre Dame’s campus to teach.

“I’d love to be back here at Notre Dame,” she said. “I love this community, and I think that the role of a professor in my life has been absolutely transformative — to have mentors who can educate me as a scholar, but also accompany me as a person to my fulfillment.”

For right now, however, Carozza said she is taking some time off.

“This summer I’m going backpacking some places. I’m going to pilgrimage to Our Lady of Guadalupe, and then I’m going to be spending the rest of the summer working on a farm in northern Colorado,” Carozza said. “I’m so excited to just be immersed in silence. I do best when I’m alone in a place that’s beautiful and I can read and write, so that’s my happy place.”

There were times she questioned her decision to attend Notre Dame during her first couple years, Carozza said. But by now she knows she made the right choice.

“Really reflecting on everything that’s happened to these past four years and all of the relationships that I’ve grown to have, I cannot imagine having made a different choice precisely because I’m a very different person than I was in high school. I’ve grown and been formed a lot, and I have a deep faith now and an awareness of who I am and what I’m called to do,” Carozza said. “Honestly I can’t imagine it having come as easily at a place other than Notre Dame.”

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About Mariah Rush

Mariah is a sophomore majoring in American Studies and minoring in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. She is from the great city of South Bend, which is not the middle of nowhere, and serves as an Associate News Editor for the Observer.

Contact Mariah