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2020 valedictorian reflects on faith, community at Notre Dame

| Friday, May 15, 2020

Four years ago, senior Brady Stiller decided to apply to Notre Dame for three reasons.

“Notre Dame had everything I was looking for in an undergraduate experience,” he said. “A top-tier education, a supportive community of peers and faculty and a religious-minded people who saw their intellect ordered toward a higher good.” 

Having been named the valedictorian of the class of 2020, Stiller will graduate with a double major in biological sciences and theology. He became interested in both subjects during high school.

“I have loved every biology and theology course during these four years, without exception,” he said. “While biology and theology seem to be a strange combination, I have found that the two inform each other and grant me a more complete worldview.”

Courtesy of Brady Stiller

Senior Brady Stiller will deliver the valedictorian address at the May 2021 commencement ceremony for the class of 2020.

In his pursuit of biological sciences, Stiller worked as an undergraduate research assistant in associate professor Jason McLachlan’s lab, which researches the recovery and germination of marsh seeds. Stiller began doing research his sophomore year and spent three years and two summers contributing to the project.

“I was initially intrigued by the model organism of the lab, a marsh sedge Schoenoplectus americanus,” he said. “This lab would extract sediment cores from the Chesapeake Bay marshes and resurrect intact seeds of this sedge up to a hundred years old.”

During the summer of 2018, he conducted large field experiments in the Chesapeake Bay assisting graduate student Megan Vasen. In the summer of 2019, Stiller led an effort to successfully design and implement a breeding protocol for the marsh sedge. 

Graduating with a 4.0 GPA, Stiller made the dean’s list and is a member of the Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society. He was also named Outstanding Biological Scientist by the Department of Biological Sciences. 

The second half of his undergraduate academic career focused on theology, which concluded with his senior thesis focused on the writings of G.K. Chesterton and the topic of vocation.

“This research and writing process was a culmination of four years of biology, theology and philosophy studies, as well as six years of my deepest thoughts about vocation,” Stiller said. 

Stiller said the 180-page thesis was arguably the most meaningful experience of his undergraduate career. Stiller researched his thesis at Notre Dame and at the Chesterton Library at the London Global Gateway and the British Library in London, while he studied abroad during his junior year.

Additionally, Stiller was a dialogue facilitator for three semesters in the God and the Good Life Fellow Program, an introductory philosophy class.

“My own personal beliefs matured as I challenged groups of first year students to analyze and articulate their beliefs about the meaning of this life, religion and God and morality, among other things,” he said. “This deep questioning would benefit my senior thesis, wherein I present a complex ontological framework to make sense of our lives and this existence.” 

While studying abroad in London, Stiller held an internship as a teacher’s assistant at St. Thomas More Language College. Additionally, Stiller was an intern in the Office of Campus Ministry his senior year.

Stiller was a Notre Dame Vision mentor during the summer of 2018. He had planned to fulfill this role once again this summer, but the program was cancelled because of the pandemic. Stiller still plans on working with the Vision team remotely as they consider alternative options for the summer. 

Stiller lived in Dunne Hall all four years and was a part of the first freshman class to occupy the dorm.

“We were the founding fathers of new hall traditions that would be passed on for generations,” he said. “Picking our mascot, deciding our hall’s colors and establishing annual events were all part of the experience.” 

After his freshman year, Stiller lived in a six-man in Dunne for three years, with the same roommates each time.

“This living arrangement is one I never would’ve expected to have for three years in a row, but I wouldn’t think twice about changing it,” he said. 

Stiller was a Mass lector and Eucharistic minister for Dunne, and he also cofounded the dorm’s food sales business.

He said his favorite times of year at Notre Dame were the Lent and Easter seasons.

“After many months of permacloud and snow, around Easter the campus springs back to life,” he said. “The tulips are budding, the trees put forth green leaves again, and the weather is crisp and cool. The liturgies in the Basilica during that weekend — Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil—are highlights of the whole year.

“I’m sad to have missed out on this special weekend this year due to COVID-19, but returning to campus next year will give me another experience of Easter at Notre Dame.”

Stiller was recently accepted into the Mendoza College of Business, where he will pursue a Master of Nonprofit Administration after graduation.

“I’m excited for these business skills to capitalize upon my past experiences and my theology and biology studies,” he said.

In addition, Stiller is currently discerning the Jesuit priesthood.

“I believe that this program will set me up well for the next step, one that has been on my mind for six years — applying to the Jesuit novitiate,” Stiller said. 

Normally, Stiller would deliver his valedictorian address during the commencement ceremony, but because of the pandemic he will deliver the address during the May 2021 commencement celebration instead.

“All of us have achieved greatly during these four years,” he said. “Let’s welcome this time of slowing down and gaining perspective. In the year ahead, may we welcome this growth and change what we can until we gather again under the golden dome.”

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