Saint Mary’s valedictorians reflect on time at the College, plans for the future
Genevieve Coleman | Friday, May 21, 2021
Three Saint Mary’s seniors will be recognized as valedictorians for the Class of 2021 at the College’s commencement ceremony May 22.
The three honorees are Kelly Harris, Katie Jackson and Stefanie Winnicki.
Harris is a business administration major with concentrations in finance and management. She noted that her faith was the most important part of her collegiate journey.
“I feel like the biggest thing for me is my faith,” Harris said. “That’s why I came to Saint Mary’s because it was a Catholic institution. They market themselves as a Catholic, women’s liberal arts institution — Catholic is first so I wanted to go somewhere that I could grow in my faith.”
Harris believes that being a resident assistant at Saint Mary’s was a formative part of her experience.
“I think, even though it’s been really stressful, and you don’t have a lot of free time, it’s really cool being able to meet so many people that I otherwise wouldn’t have met in the classroom or in friendships or in clubs.”
Harris also considered the effect being a member of Belles for Life and Fiat, a religious fellowship organization had on her and the people she served.
“In Belles for Life, I’m able to help stand up for people that their voices aren’t always heard [and] in Fiat, I’m a small group leader, so I kind of help lead conversation for people. So being a voice for people or being even a rock for people is kind of the best thing.”
Following graduation, Harris will be serving as a missionary through the Fellowship of Catholic University Student on a U.S. college campus. Even though some people think this is an unexpected move, Harris believes in the importance of following her calling.
“I kind of chose the thing that made the least sense to some people, but this past year, it’s been crazy and life can change overnight. So, I wanted to follow the thing that I knew I was called to,” Harris said.
Jackson is a speech-language pathology major with minors in gerontology and social work. She expressed her positive experiences working with a client in a clinical practicum.
“I think probably my favorite thing that I did more on the academic side of things was I had a clinical practicum,” Jackson said. “So, I got to have a client that I worked with in the speech and language clinic. And so it was really cool to get to … have the culmination of all the things that I learned in all my speech pathology classes and actually put that into practice.”
While she was majoring in speech-language pathology, Jackson said she discovered her love for gerontology and plans to apply this knowledge when she completes her master’s in speech-language pathology at Ithaca College next fall.
“I was able to — through clubs and coursework through the gerontology department [and] the gerontology minor, realize that I really like to work with older adults,” she said. “And then from there, I started volunteering with hospices, and got that end of life care experience, and I actually found a big passion for that.”
Jackson noted that her time at the College taught her valuable lessons about how to live on her own.
“I would say that I gained a lot of confidence in myself and my abilities,” Jackson said. “I’m from southern Arizona, so it was the first time I was really at a distance from my family, and so I gained a lot of independence and figured out that I was able to do well managing everything that goes along with being a college student.”
Winnicki is receiving a global studies major with a concentration in anthropology from the College and a minor in Mandarin Chinese from the University of Notre Dame. She plans to enter a career related to international service after graduation.
Winnicki expressed her gratitude for being named a co-valedictorian.
“I’m so grateful,” Winnicki said. “Truly more than anything, I don’t feel it’s something that I’ve done. I feel it’s just something that I’m just so blessed to have happened in my life.”
Describing her journey at the College, Winnicki noted she initially struggled to find her place in the College community.
“Interestingly enough when I first started out here, it was really tough for me to fit in and feel this is where I was supposed to be,” Winnicki said. “I really struggled just like with college in general, I think. I didn’t feel like I was ever good enough and I just worried so much about holding myself to like this high standard.”
After attempting to create a student-designed major, Winnicki explained her thought about her decision to major in global studies.
“I just had like this moment where I’m like ‘Okay, maybe, because like I’ve always known that language is something that’s always fueled my passion,” she said. “It’s something that’s been the most important to me and I knew that I was like, ‘Okay, if this student design major didn’t work out, I guess I can consider global studies.”
Throughout her time in the major, Winnicki studied Spanish, Italian and Arabic at Saint Mary’s, in addition to Mandarin at Notre Dame, she said.
During her senior year, Winnicki was asked by her Arabic professor to be a teaching assistant for the College’s Introductory Arabic class. Since her professor was teaching remotely, Winnicki came to every class session in person to help the students. She recounted what she learned during her time in the class.
“There were a couple times when I had to teach the class all by myself. I never had like that kind of responsibility before,” Winnicki said. “It really taught me leadership and it really gave me confidence in my ability to speak in front of others and be a leader.”