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Saint Mary’s valedictorians look back on collegiate careers

and | Friday, May 13, 2022

Six Saint Mary’s seniors will be recognized as valedictorians for the Class of 2022 at the College’s commencement ceremony May 14.

The Observer spoke to the valedictorians about their journeys at Saint Mary’s and their hopes for the future.

Margaret Devitt

Devitt, from La Grange, Illinois, is graduating with a degree in speech language pathology with minors in psychology and gerontology. After she was named valedictorian, she said she felt proud of the hard work that led to the honor.

Devitt is graduating with a degree in speech-language pathology. In the fall, she will be pursuing a masters degree at Rush University.Courtesy of Saint Mary’s College
Devitt, from La Grange, Illinois, is graduating with a degree in speech-language pathology. In the fall, she will be pursuing a masters degree at Rush University.

“I’m just so proud of myself for knowing everything that I’ve done to get to this point and where it has led me,” Devitt said. “It’s a phenomenal honor to receive.”

Throughout her time at Saint Mary’s, Devitt participated in Student Government Association (SGA), more recently serving as chief of staff and secretary of internal affairs. She said she’s thankful for the perspective she gained from SGA.

“That’s just been so great to be involved with campus life and [promoting] community activities and just honestly being able to check into the well being of students,” she said. “It just has really tied me into bigger picture things.”

Devitt has also been a part of Dance Marathon all four years of college. Serving as vice president of merchandise on the executive board, Devitt has been a consistent fundraiser.

“I’ve been top fundraiser all four years, which I was really excited about because my friends and family have been so supportive in donating,” she said. “I loved being on the other side of it, not just donating money but helping raise awareness and making this event happen, which was really important for me.”

A capstone of Devitt’s speech language pathology degree was working with her own client in Saint Mary’s Judd Leighton Speech and Language Clinic last semester. Recalling her experience as a student clinician, Devitt said she was intimidated when she first started. 

“Last semester, I worked in the clinic and I had my own client, which was really intimidating at first because you’re like, ‘Wow, I’ve been learning how to be a speech language pathologist these past four years, but now I’m being asked to actually do it,’” she said.

Still, Devitt credited the experience with teaching her how to become a better clinician.

“It was the most affirming experience that I could ask for because it wasn’t easy. It was not easy at all,” she said. “But I got to work with this client from beginning to end and just see her progress and also see myself progress as a future clinician and learn what it actually means to be a [speech language pathologist], not just from teachers providing information on the slides, but just like actually getting to do it.”

When considering what advice to give to future students, Devitt recalled wanting to live up to her sisters’ academic standards while struggling with ADHD. She noted she eventually realized everyone’s college experience is an individual experience.

“The most important part was learning how I can reach my full potential and not anyone else’s expectations,” she said. “It was really just learning what you want to achieve. Because whatever you want to achieve, it’s possible. You’re able to do it.”

After her graduation from Saint Mary’s, Devitt will pursue her master’s in speech language pathology this fall at Rush University with the hope of eventually becoming a licensed practitioner. 

Allyson Emmett

Emmett will leave Saint Mary’s with degrees in Spanish and global studies with a concentration in anthropology. She was selected by the College’s Academic Leadership Council to give the commencement speech on behalf of the rest of the valedictorians.

After graduating with degrees in Spanish and global studies, Emmett is an alternate for the Fulbright Teaching Assistant Program.Courtesy of Saint Mary’s College
After graduating with degrees in Spanish and global studies, Emmett is an alternate for the Fulbright Teaching Assistant Program. She is a first-generation student from Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Emmett, from Fort Wayne, Indiana, said she was honored to receive recognition for her work at Saint Mary’s.

“It really makes me proud, but also it’s humbling that I get to represent my class in this way,” she said.

Emmett said she is grateful to be able to give the commencement address to her peers after receiving support from them during her college experience.

“It is truly an honor to speak for my class, which is made up of so many talented and inspiring individuals,” she said. “I would not be in this position without being supported and challenged by other Belles, so I want to point out the efforts they’ve been involved in to make Saint Mary’s a better, more just place.”

Emmett credited the support systems she found as a first-generation college student, especially in the Saint Mary’s Belles Connect Program.

“Also just my peers at Saint Mary’s too have definitely pushed me to see that I deserve to be here just as much as they do, and I can still contribute in class and can be just as hardworking and smart as my peers, even though I don’t have the same academic background as them,” she said. 

Coming to Saint Mary’s planning to major in chemistry, Emmett soon realized her true interests were Spanish and global studies, especially after her time studying abroad in Seville, Spain.

“I think I also came into college thinking I have to take certain classes in order to prove to myself that I was deserving of being at college, but then I realized that what I actually think is that college is about pursuing your interests and so I just started to do that with my two majors,” she said.

Emmett has been involved with Saint Mary’s Office for the Common Good (OCG) since her first year, working primarily in the Beyond the Belle literacy program. She described how the organization broadened her horizons, especially outside the tri-campus.

“It also really helped me connect with the South Bend community, and I think bridging the gap between our students here at the tri-campus community and the South Bend community is really important,” she said. “So I’m really grateful that the OCG allowed me to bridge that gap for myself and for other students too.”

Recently named an alternate for an English Teaching Assistant Fulbright Award for Spain, Emmett discussed how she developed a love for teaching through the Beyond the Belle Program.

“I‘d never worked with kids before the Beyond the Belle program,” she said. “I didn’t really think I was interested in that. But just developing relationships with kids and going in every day and you know them saying, ‘Hi Miss Ally’ [and] giving me a hug sometimes, just really showed that I can make an impact, and they also can make an impact on me and help me be a better person.”

Reflecting on her experience, Emmett recommended future students learn to be patient with themselves in college.

“First off, be patient with yourself, and know that you don’t have to be the smartest person in the room to be proud of your journey academically in all the ways that make you a person,” she said. “I definitely am not the smartest person in every room. Definitely not at all. But you know my journey, and you’re really the only person that does. You should be proud of yourself.”

Grace Floerchinger

Floerchinger will earn degrees in economics and environmental studies when she graduates from Saint Mary’s this week.

From Rockford, Michigan, Floerchinger will graduate with degrees in economics and environmental studies. She will begin working Fannie Mae as a business analyst in capital markets.Courtesy of Saint Mary’s College
From Rockford, Michigan, Floerchinger will graduate with degrees in economics and environmental studies. She will begin working at Fannie Mae as a business analyst in capital markets.

When asked what it means to be a valedictorian, Floerchinger acknowledged both her dedication to her academics and the support of her professors.

“It’s a testament to the hard work and dedication that I have put in but then also formulating relationships with my professors along the way,” she said.

Floerchinger, from Rockford, Michigan, specifically referenced College professors Ari Farshbaf, Sianne Vijay and Cassie Majetic as sources of her success.

Serving as the co-chair of SGA’s sustainability committee and the student representative on the Going Green Committee was a formative part of Floerchinger’s time at the College, she said. Both groups asked for her input on matters of College sustainability.

“It’s just been really cool to see what the College is doing and really trying to implement, and I think that’s just been eye-opening for me too, because it really goes to show that within the realm of sustainability, there’s so much that goes into it,” she said.

Considering College sustainability efforts after her graduation, Floerchinger expressed a hope that environmental clubs will continue to grow. 

“It’s so easy to say all of these things, but really, there’s so much, and it takes a whole team and it’s something that will require continued input and effort, and I’m glad that the College has these clubs,” she said. “I’m hoping that they can be strengthened even after I leave because there’s still so much more room and progress that needs to be made.”

She said having her time studying abroad cut short due to the pandemic in spring 2020 was another formative experience, though a difficult one.

“I really learned how to cope with hard emotions, but still be grateful for the opportunities that we had,” she said. “And even in college, I was still so grateful that my freshman and into sophomore year still had a sense of normalcy and then you know, the storm hit.”

After graduation, Floerchinger will work at Fannie Mae as a business analyst in capital markets. Imparting advice, she encourages current and future students to form strong bonds with their professors. 

“I think that the biggest thing for me and what I would like to say to future students is that professors are there to help you, they want you to succeed,” she said. “They want to be a resource for you on campus.”

Lauren Honkamp

Lauren Honkamp was not expecting to be one of the valedictorians for the Saint Mary’s class of 2022.

Courtesy of Saint Mary's College
Lauren Honkamp is one of six valedictorians for the Saint Mary’s class of 2022. Honkamp is a social work major with minors in gerontology and sociology.

“I never intended on being valedictorian, up until I got that email, I didn’t even think about it,” she said. “I’ve just been doing my thing. and I’ve done really well, and I’ve put every ounce of my energy into the work I’ve been doing,” Honkamp said.

Honkamp, from Rockford, Illinois, is a social work major with minors in gerontology and sociology. She always knew she wanted to work with people, but she did not know in what capacity.

“I love people, and I really wanted to help people, which sounds generic, but I genuinely just want to be a helping hand,” Honkamp said. “Freshman year, I took an intro to social work class, and I really liked it and said ‘Oh, this sounds perfect.’”

During her time at Saint Mary’s, Honkamp was the fundraising chair for SMC for the Spectrum, the autism awareness club on campus. She was also the president of the Social Work Club and a founding member of the Baking Club.

She said her time at Saint Mary‘s has been challenging yet rewarding.

“It’s definitely had its ups and downs. I love Saint Mary’s in the grand scheme of things, but it was definitely difficult at times. At the same time, I feel like I was totally meant to come here. I was almost set up to go to another school,” she said. “But then I came and did another tour … I was like, ‘Something feels like I should be here.’”

She said she is grateful for the educational opportunities Saint Mary’s has provided her.

“I felt like I’ve been able to speak up in class and really be an active part in my education, and I’ve never been afraid to make the most of that. I feel like Saint Mary’s is very authentic. Girls are allowed to be very authentic,” Honkamp said.

Part of this authenticity meant she and her roommates proudly displayed a cutout of Harry Styles in their dorm window at Le Mans Hall.

“It was just so fun. We claimed [Harry] as our fourth roommate. I would hear people out the window, saying ‘hey’ to Harry, and I feel like we were kind of a staple that year,” she said.

Remembering memories like these is bittersweet for Honkamp.

“I’m so happy that I’m so sad,” she said.

Honkamp said the friendships she has formed at the College will last for the rest of her life.

“I’m so lucky that I was able to form friendships like this,” she said. “Being with this group of people and being so authentic, I feel like I’ve never been more myself than I have been here at Saint Mary’s. I’ve really come into myself.”

Honkamp will continue her education at Loyola University Chicago, pursuing a graduate degree in social work. She will participate in the Advanced Standing Master’s Social Work program.

When asked what she will miss the most about Saint Mary’s, Honkamp spoke about the comforting home feeling of the college.

“I never imagined coming in freshman year that I would think of this place as my home, but it’s so comfortable here. Just the idea of leaving a place that just brings me so much happiness and joy, just walking down the hall and hanging out with my friends,” she said. “Being so close to the people I love all the time, I’ve always said Saint Mary’s is one big four-year sleepover with your best friends.”

Katie O’Hara

Saint Mary’s graduating senior and New Lenox, Illinois, native O’Hara is another one of the six valedictorians who will be recognized at the Saint Mary’s commencement ceremony. O’Hara is majoring in business administration with a concentration in finance.

Courtesy of Saint Mary's College
Katie O’Hara, originally from New Lenox, IL was named one of six valedictorians for the Saint Mary’s College class of 2022. O’Hara is a business administration major with a concentration in finance.

“I don’t know what made me choose business. I think it was my mom that inspired me because she’s also in business. I went through the prerequisites of the business major… and something about finance stuck with me,” O’Hara said.

As a first-year, O’Hara was a member of the Residence Hall Association (RHA) and served on the events committee. She also participated in Future Business Leaders of Saint Mary’s and was on the financial council for student government.

O’Hara also served as a Resident Advisor (RA) for the past three years, in Le Mans Hall for two years and Opus Hall for her senior year.

O’Hara said she chose Saint Mary’s after her mom introduced her to the College.

“Initially when I was looking at schools, I was looking at big schools like Indiana University, just a fish in the sea type schools,” she said. “My mom introduced to me to Saint Mary’s because she had three Saint Mary’s alumnae in her office, including her boss. So, she was like ‘I’m surrounded by smart, powerful women and I think this would be a good fit for you.’”

O’Hara recalled the Smick Rally as one of the defining moments of her time in college.

“There was just something about it that made me feel like it made our community grow stronger, and reclaiming that word, that name that has been used to degrade our intelligence or discredit our choice in attending an all-women’s school, really stood out to me,” she said. “I’m proud to call myself a smick, there’s a pride in saying it now.”

She said the Saint Mary’s community had a major impact on her development throughout college.

“The professors just want to see us go further than just going to class or completing assignments, they want us to do good. They want to set us up with jobs, they want to do anything that they can to prepare us to do better,” she said. “It sets the foundation for Saint Mary’s as such a strong community, and you see it through your peers and your friends supporting you.”

O’Hara said she was shocked when she found out she was going to be one of the valedictorians for the class of 2022, giving the honor to those who supported her along the way.

“It makes me really proud that I have kept the 4.0 [grade point average] throughout my time at Saint Mary’s, but I think it’s just a testament to the support system that I’ve had and everybody who has helped me push to keep my grades as they are,” O’Hara said. “That’s what Saint Mary’s is though. If you were to go up to somebody and say you need help, if they can’t help you, they will find somebody who can. It’s just amazing to have a network of people who are working together to support us and to see us become the best versions of ourselves,” O’Hara said.

After graduation, O’Hara will work in Chicago as an associate analyst in United Airlines’ financial planning and analysis division.

Emily Tobias

After graduating from Saint Mary’s in December with a bachelor’s degree in statistical and actuarial mathematics and a minor in computer science, Emily Tobias was announced as one of the class of 2022 valedictorians.

Courtesy of Saint Mary's College
Emily Tobias is one of six valedictorians for the Saint Mary’s class of 2022.

During her time at Saint Mary’s, Tobias, from Wheatfield, Indiana, was an active member in the math and computer science club. She served as both secretary and later vice president of the club. Tobias also took part in two different choirs at Saint Mary’s. She was an alto in the Chapel Choir and a second soprano in the Women’s Choir.

Tobias said she ended up going down the statistical and actuarial mathematics route after her high school choir introduced her to the career path. Although she does not plan on pursuing a career as an actuary, Tobias said she is grateful she completed the major.

“[My teacher] stopped me in the hallway one day and told me that I should consider choosing actuary science. She said I would be perfect for that kind of career because I’m very analytical. Although I no longer wish to be an actuary, I’m still glad I went down this route,” she said in an email.

Tobias spent her summers during her undergraduate years completing research for Michigan State University and interning at the Naval Surface Warfare Center for the U.S. Navy as a civil servant, according to a press release.

She said being named one of the valedictorians was a surprise.

“Becoming valedictorian wasn’t one of my goals … I had no ideas that I was ever on that track to become valedictorian,” Tobias said in the email.

After graduating this winter, Tobias started a full-time job at Epic, a privately held healthcare software company located in Wisconsin.

Tobias will be one of the five valedictorians whose speeches will be pre-recorded and posted online. Due to the large number of valedictorians, only one, Emmett, will give a speech at the May 14 commencement ceremony.

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About Genevieve Coleman

Genevieve Coleman is a senior at Saint Mary's majoring in English literature, creative writing and secondary education with a minor in theatre. She currently serves as an Assistant Managing Editor.

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