Three Valedictorians Lead USD's Class of 2017 into the World

The University of San Diego's three Class of 2017 Valedictorians, from left to right: Keely Palla (Business), Rachel Lloyd (Engineering), Emma Doolittle (College of Arts and Sciences).The University of San Diego's three Class of 2017 Valedictorians, from left to right: Keely Palla (Business), Rachel Lloyd (Engineering), Emma Doolittle (College of Arts and Sciences).

It’s among the most prestigious distinctions a student can earn. Being the class valedictorian makes a student a sort of de-facto voice of a generation. For eight to ten minutes.

Rooted in the Latin vale dicere (“to say farewell”) and traditionally delivered by the student of the highest academic rank, the valedictorian is the final commencement speaker before students receive their diplomas. This year, the Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering had its inaugural valedictorian, which gave USD three undergrads who were called upon to address their colleagues. 

Keely Palla, an accountancy graduate specializing in taxation, learned she was the chosen one to deliver the School of Business valediction the same way the other speakers did. Summoned to a meeting with Vice President and Provost Andrew Allen, Palla says, “he told me I was the valedictorian and congratulated me,” Palla says. “It’s not like he asked if I wanted to do it, it was more like, ‘you’re doing this.”

For Palla it’s deju vu all over again: she was valedictorian of her high school graduating class.

“My address is not meant to recount the actions of my fellow graduates,” she stated prior to delivering it. “Those things are personal memories. I want to take them on a journey through their life before, during, and after USD and relive the feelings that those experiences brought them. Many view graduation as a point where the door closes on one part of our lives and a new part begins. Instead, I would like the graduates to view graduation as one stop on our journey through life, realizing that what we have learned at USD and the growth we have achieved during our journey here has best equipped us to begin the next leg of our journey. We are on a continuous path, and have reached yet another destination among many to come."

College of Arts and Sciences valedictorian Emma Doolittle had a rough adjustment to college life and at one point considered transferring from USD. “I didn’t think it was for me,” she remembers.

Rather than sign her name to transfer forms, however, she signed it on volunteer forms and sign-up sheets. She became an RA, was in USD's Honors Program and got closely involved in Colleges Against Cancer and USD’s annual Relay for Life event to support cancer research. The double major graduate in history and sociology will continue her education at Bowling Green University and seeks to become a university student-service administrator.

She says thinking about that transition made her think of another milestone in the lives of all graduates: one that happened for most four years ago. 

“I want to remind my fellow students of where we were then: those feelings of being overwhelmed with a new environment, a radical change in lifestyle from high school, the personal challenges of meeting all kinds of new people and discovering ourselves in the process. We’re about to do it all again. And after that, we’ll do it again. It’s the nature of life.”

As she was preparing to deliver the inaugural valediction for the Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering, Rachel Lloyd reflected less on the shared experience of the graduates than the motivations that are unique to each of them.

“No one in this room has one feature that defines them,” the Industrial and Systems Engineering standout reminded her fellow graduates. “You are not one thing. This is one of the many lessons USD has taught me. You are not just an engineer, just an accountant, just any one thing, you are a multitude of things that make you you. And that mixture is what is going to make you successful in life. Play to your strengths, no matter how unorthodox they may be. You will find your place in the world, by embracing your uniqueness.”

— Timothy McKernan

Photos by Chris Keeney