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Monday, May 20, 2024
The Observer

Saint Mary’s names three valedictorians

Three seniors from Saint Mary’s graduating class, Chyan Rangel, Emily Morin and Natalie Volling, have been recognized as valedictorians for the 2023 commencement.

Chyan Rangel

Rangel will graduate from Saint Mary’s College with a bachelor of science in neuroscience with a concentration in neurobiology and a minor in chemistry. She was selected by the College’s Academic Leadership Council to give the commencement speech on behalf of the rest of the valedictorians.

Originally from Munster, Indiana, Rangel said she didn’t come to college planning to be valedictorian but was inspired by her dad’s college experience to do so.

“I didn’t come into college thinking ‘I’m going to be valedictorian,’ but it was something in the back of my head” she said. “My dad was valedictorian and he came from very hard beginnings, and I just felt if he could do that, with everything that he had been through — he had no support or anything like that. So I thought, ‘How do I have an excuse to not do my absolute best after everything he’s given me.’”

Throughout her time at Saint Mary’s, Rangel contributed to several different organizations. She served as the president of the Future Women in Health Care Club and worked as a tutor for microbiology students in the College tutoring center.

In addition to that work, Rangel was also the vice president and one of the instructors for Smick Cycle, “a club designed to bring students with a passion for fitness together and promote camaraderie amongst students of the tri-campus area,” according to the club’s Belle Tower page.

Rangel said the club allowed to share her passion for fitness.

“I started going to the classes every week and I loved them … I love fitness, so I reached out to the girl in charge of the club at the time and became one of the instructors for the next year after she graduated,” she said.

Rangel mentioned that she didn’t initially see herself attending Saint Mary’s but doesn’t regret the decision.

“I did not want to come to Saint Mary’s at all, I was actually very angry” she said. “My dad works for Saint Mary’s … so for that reason, I did not have a choice, I had to come here.”

Despite that apprehension, Rangel said she’s made lasting relationships.

“I came to Saint Mary’s thinking I wasn’t going to fit in very well. I’ve had a lot of guy friends growing up. I never really had a ton of friends who were girls. I was shocked by how many great girls were here and how I was able to create really great friendships, lifelong friends, just from my freshman year that I’ve maintained throughout the four years. The support of the SMC community, I wasn’t expecting it, but I’m so grateful for it now,” she said.

Rangel said she’ll miss one thing above all: the community.

“You’re never alone. You always have friends, you always have people that say hi to you when you walk on campus,” she said. “I’m really going to miss just the community. And my classes, I really loved my professors, I love learning and I think that’s going to be a hard transition for me.”

Rangel is still “exploring” what she wants to settle on after graduation.

“I know I want to do something in science, but I’m still bouncing around between doing research or pursuing a Ph.D. or staying in the medical field. But as for right now, I’m going to be continuing my research that I did last summer at the University of Chicago,” she said.

Rangel’s research focuses on cancer.

“I work on signaling mechanisms called notch signaling. It’s very important for all of development, and then in adults, it’s been related to cancers,” she said.

Rangel said she is still considering becoming a doctor, but she’s become more uneasy about the prospect, citing a desire to work directly with science and avoid the difficulty of medical school.

“Med school had pretty much always been my plan, but the more I shadowed … the more I was exposed to it, the more apprehensive I became about it,” she said.

Rangel said that Saint Mary’s has grown her confidence.

“It’s really given me a lot more confidence in who I am and what I can be. I guess I would say I was really encouraged by professors in such a positive way,” she said. “I feel like I achieved so much more than I ever thought I could. I never thought I’d be able to get through organic chemistry and to be the best student at it. I grew my confidence and now have a pretty positive outlook on what I’m able to accomplish now and in the future.”


Emily Morin

Morin, originally from South Bend, Indiana, will be graduating with a degree in elementary education with mild intervention licensure, K-6.

After graduation, Morin has accepted a job with the nearby Penn-Harris-Madison School Corporation as an unassigned resource teacher for exceptional education.

Morin said she was drawn to become a teacher by her experiences as a child traveling to other countries.

“My siblings were adopted from Ethiopia, so I went to Ethiopia when I was in second grade. Then in sixth grade, I went to Guatemala. Those two trips were very shaping in who I am and my perspective of the world,” she said.

She said education is central to that perspective.

”I think the poverty I saw there showed me that education really is a gift. It’s a privilege that not everybody has, so that made me want to be able to educate as many people as I can because I see that as the road to being successful,” she said. “Education is everything, and it makes the world safer and a happier place. I want everybody to be as educated as they can be. That’s my goal.”

One of Morin’s most influential experiences at Saint Mary’s was her study abroad experience in Uganda the summer before her senior year.

“We were there for seven weeks and we taught at a local school. We also went with a group of nurses who were working at a clinic in the same compound. We all lived with the sisters there, and it was just the best experience of my life, just being in the school with those children and learning from them, playing with them and teaching them,” she recalled.

Morin reflected on the impact the pandemic had on her Saint Mary’s experience. Because COVID-19 hit in the middle of her first year at Saint Mary’s, she said a lot of friendships went away. Despite feelings of loneliness, she said the pandemic helped her find some of her real friends.

“I found my friends through a rough cycle, but they just really have been everything to me, and that’s what I reflect on the most when I think of Saint Mary’s,” she said. “My friends are the people that matter to me, and really everybody here, there’s been so many memories I’ve made with all the people in the senior class that I’ll keep with me forever. My grades don’t matter. What matters to me is when I look back and see my friends and our memories.”

Saint Mary’s has always been a part of Morin’s life because both of her grandmothers, her mother, several cousins and in-laws all attended Saint Mary’s.

The College “has always been a big part of my identity,” she said.

Becoming valedictorian was a goal Morin set for herself.

“I worked hard to be valedictorian. I wanted to do really well, but it wasn’t always what was most important to me. Yes, I’m happy to be valedictorian but at the same time, looking back, I’m not going to look at the grades that I got,” she said. “What matters are the friendships I built and the people that I had with me. It’s really because of them that I got here, there’s no way I would have achieved this without all of my friends and their support. I learned with people … and I wouldn’t have been able to do so well without them.”

Morin said Saint Mary’s has helped her grow into the person she is.

“I think it just made me more secure in who I am. Coming here, I was just this little girl who had these really big ideas of who I wanted to be, but I didn’t know what to do with them or how to pursue them,” she said. “Being at Saint Mary’s, my entire education here has shown me what it’s like to be a teacher, to teach students of all different capabilities, even when it’s hard. Usually when you look at education, it’s all this ‘coloring and rainbows and happiness and joy,’ but it’s hard sometimes. It’s made my idea of who I want to be more real.”


Natalie Volling

Natalie Volling, a native of Crystal Lake, Illinois, will be graduating from Saint Mary’s with a degree in statistical and actuarial mathematics and a minor in Spanish.

Volling entered Saint Mary’s in the class of 2024 but will be graduating with the class of 2023.

In addition to being a resident assistant and a teaching assistant for the math department, Volling served as president of the math club and a member of the Pi Mu Epsilon Honor Society.

After graduating on Saturday, Volling will continue working towards her master’s in data science degree at Saint Mary’s through the accelerated bachelor’s to master’s program. Volling will also begin working for a company in Baltimore, Maryland, as an applied research mathematician this summer.

Volling reflected on entering college during the pandemic.

“Honestly it was exciting and terrifying at the same time coming in during the pandemic and having to make friends when it was during the time where people were telling us ‘don’t interact with people’ [and] ‘keep your distance but also make friends,’” she said. “I became really close with my freshman year roommate and learned to really appreciate the small little moments of every day.”

Volling explained how she met graduation requirements in three years.

“I was goal-oriented in high school, so I came to Saint Mary’s with a lot of AP credits and was able to finish early. It definitely made things a little weird … But in my major classes, at least I was working with the other girls who are seniors now,” she said. “We were working on stuff together, became friends together [and] were in classes together from the beginning, so it wasn’t too complicated. I had the Saint Mary’s community around me, and my professors knew I was going to try to graduate in three years, so they helped me figure it out.”

Volling said that while she’ll miss a fourth year of undergraduate studies at Saint Mary’s, she’s excited for the future.

“I’m going to miss going through some of that senior closing stuff with the girls I went through freshman orientation and move-in weekend with, but at the same time, I am ready to get to the next step,” she said. “And I won’t be leaving Saint Mary’s completely behind, I do still have another year through the master’s program.”

She said the announcement that she’d be a valedictorian was the result of hard work.

“It’s something that I’m very excited about. I worked really hard to get here. I’ve put in so much time, so many office hours and problem sessions just to make sure that I was getting [what I wanted] out of my classes,” she said.

Volling said she has always been motivated, but Saint Mary’s has encouraged that.

“I was already a fairly driven person before, but Saint Mary’s has helped me continue to build that drive and make it more productive. So, it’s not just about school or academics, it’s about other things in life,” she said. “They’ve helped me grow as a person and realize that there’s more outside of school — something that I’ve definitely struggled with while growing up. Saint Mary’s helped me make lifelong connections that I’m hoping to carry with me throughout life.”