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Notre Dame valedictorian reflects on her unlikely journey

| Friday, May 21, 2021

Although Madeline Owen has now become the valedictorian for the class of 2021, Notre Dame was not her childhood dream school. But, Owen said, she changed her mind after visiting campus on a whim with her mom on the way back from an event in Chicago.

Courtesy of Madeline Owen
Class of 2021 valedictorian, Madeline Owen.

“[My mom and I] went up to Notre Dame, and we got out of the car and walked around. And I really was just taking it all in for the first time, and there was not much conversation between her and I,” Owen said. “But I was just seeing things I really liked and seemed so unique from other college campuses. I loved it and I knew from that moment that Notre Dame was the school of my dreams.”

According to Owen, Notre Dame stood out because of its family-like atmosphere.

“It just really seemed like everyone here was one big family and has such a national and international representation,” Owen said. “It’s a place that students are nurtured to achieve the best and to achieve more than they envision themselves achieving.”

Owen, a Stamps Scholar, took on numerous endeavors during her four years at Notre Dame. She majored in neuroscience and behavior, minored in poverty studies and was part of the Glynn family Honors Program.

She said she was drawn to neuroscience and behavior because it was the cross section of two things she was very interested in: science and humanity.

“What attracted me to neuroscience was the intersection between the science and the inquiry part and, really, the human element,” Owen explained. “I have known that medicine is the direction that I wanted to go since I was very young, but a huge part of medicine is the human element … Medicine really needs people who have true compassion and true empathy. And I think learning how humans think and how we behave is a huge part of that.”

Poverty studies, Owen said, was a topic she sought out because of her unique childhood.

“Growing up with my family, it was always about the journey and not the destination. We drove everywhere we could, and we stopped at everything that looked interesting along the way,” Owen explained. “I really learned how to talk to anyone; I learned that everyone has a story. Everyone comes from very different, unique backgrounds. And that has been a huge part of my values and of me seeking out a poverty studies minor.”

Among other activities, Owen was a part of the American Red Cross club and of Aquatic Relief for Kids, and she served as the treasurer of Breen-Phillips Hall and the Pre-Professional Society. She also played the violin at dorm masses and was involved in the running and sailing clubs. Likewise, Owen has been involved with research since the spring of her first year, with some of her own research being published.

Owen said becoming valedictorian was never a part of her plan.

“I try not to have my journey just be means to an end,” Owen said. “I really tried to focus on the journey and not just the destination and enjoy every step of the way. So, I think, this whole journey has really been about me learning and growing as a student, as a scholar, as a citizen, as well. When you embrace that component, other things will fall into place. Your GPA is — or should be — a representation of the learning that you have undertaken and of the commitment that you’ve put in.”

In the future, Owen said she plans to attend the Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine, as she is interested in pursuing a career within orthopedic and spinal surgery.

Her advice to other students following in her footsteps is to not be afraid of doing something out of their comfort zone.

“Some of my most valuable learning opportunities have come from the times when I was the most nervous or uncertain or uncomfortable before going into that opportunity …” Owen said. “Notre Dame has such incredible opportunities for growth and for learning, and much of that comes when you stretch your boundaries a little bit.”

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About Bella Laufenberg

Bella Laufenberg is a junior biological sciences major, who likes news much more than organic chemistry. She is also in the journalism, ethics and democracy minor. At The Observer, she currently serves as the Notre Dame News Editor.

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