Saint Mary’s valedictorians reflect on college tenure
Mia Marroquin | Friday, May 15, 2020
Three Saint Mary’s seniors will represent the Class of 2020 as valedictorians during the virtual commencement ceremony on May 16.
The three honorees are Nicole Aggarwal, Anna Bilse and Sarah Hautzinger. Aggarwal is a sociology and communication studies double major with a minor in gender and women’s studies, and Bilse is a biology major with a concentration in molecular/cell biology and a minor in dance. Hautzinger is also a sociology major with a concentration in criminology and a minor in psychology.
All three recipients will be continuing their education after graduation. Aggarwal said she plans to attend University of Colorado Boulder to pursue a doctorate in sociology. Hautzinger said she will be attending law school at St. John’s University in Queens, New York, while Bilse will attend Elon University in North Carolina to pursue a master’s in physician assistant studies.
Aggarwal learned of the possibility of receiving the honor at the end of her junior year.
“I felt some pressure, but I didn’t care too much about the title,” Aggarwal said. “I thought ‘I’ve made it this far, I can continue to work hard to achieve the goal and finish what I started.’ It acted as a strong source of both pressure and motivation to finish the job and do the best work I can.”
Bilse shared a similar sentiment of the title being an external motivator to continue the hard work.
“I was sitting on my couch when I received that email and my jaw dropped, I was just floored and it made me feel so proud and validated for the hard work that I have done,” she said. “When I first came to school I came in with the mentality that I was going to try my best and I would be happy and proud with whatever that turned out to be. Learning I could potentially be a valedictorian fueled the fire in me to continue to work as hard as I could.”
Hautzinger used the word “unforgettable” to describe her college experience.
“It was truly the best experience I could have asked for,” she said. “I am a student ambassador for the Office of Admission so I get to give tours to prospective students, and I just love being able to share and tell [prospective students] how much I love Saint Mary’s and how much it means to me. I always say that you hear about this sisterhood and it sounds cliche and cheesy but it is 100 percent true — everyone has been so supportive and collaborative really creating an incredible undergraduate experience.”
Bilse shared a similar sentiment that her opportunities and experiences were unique to Saint Mary’s. She said the experience was likely not something she would have received if she had gone anywhere else.
For Aggarwal, her college experience was defined by the personalized attention she received in the classroom. Small class sizes allowed students to succeed and allowed for professors to get to know her and her passions, she said.
“I just followed my majors where they took me, I had no idea what I was getting into but it shaped me into an academic, it has expanded my horizons and my opinions,” Aggarwal said. “I know who I know am now and that’s something I didn’t know four years ago when I stepped on campus.”
Bilse advised current undergraduate students to stay true to themselves as they finish their degrees.
“I started undergrad anxious and confused and by staying true to myself and choosing my path for myself it helped me to find who I was as an individual rather than grouping myself with a crowd,” Bilse said. “I think [staying true to yourself] is how you are able to be the best version of yourself and make the most out of this experience.”