Meet USD's 2018 Valedictorians: Chris Harrop and Anthony Shao

The best of the best. Among some 1,400 students who comprised the University of San Diego's undergraduate class of 2018, Christopher Harrop and Anthony Shao were selected as USD's valedictorians.

Harrop achieved a rare feat being named valedictorian for both College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Business. An Honors Program student, Harrop majored in Spanish and International Business, studied abroad twice, did research via his Spanish major and served as president of the PRIDE student organization and worked to create a more inclusive environment for the on-campus LGBTQ+ community.

Shao is the Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering valedictorian. Being engineering valedictorian is already a special achievement since engineering students earn a dual degree, which for Shao was a BS/BA in electrical engineering. While the dual degree is part of USD's uniqueness among undergraduate engineering programs nationwide, Shao sought more. Shao also gained a BBA in finance and minored in mathematics.

Chris Harrop: PRIDE for All

During his May 27 valedictorian speech, Chris Harrop stood for something. Actually, it was his latest opportunity in four years at USD to remind us all something important to understand — obtaining a college education at a Catholic university.

As a student who attended Catholic schools the past 17 years, Harrop stated that “the Catholic context of our education isn’t something we should disregard. Rather, it’s more relevant than ever as we move into the next chapters in our lives. What I understand to be the most crucial aspect of USD’s Catholic identity is its call to recognize the inherent human dignity and full personhood of other people, and accordingly, to treat all people with respect, compassion and empathy. Our identity as a Changemaker campus depends on realizing these values.”

Harrop, since second semester of his junior year, has been president of USD PRIDE, an on-campus student organization affiliated with the LGBTQ+ at USD community of students, staff, administrators, faculty, and alumni who identify as and/or advocate for all persons regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or gender expression.

Harrop, who was a high school valedictorian in Portland, Ore., said in a pre-graduation interview that his academic success grew through USD’s academic rigor. “I’m a perfectionist. I go into classes wanting to do really well in all of them. My experience with the academic climate at USD has really developed my critical analysis, to be a better writer, I’ve written papers in Spanish, it’s made me more articulate and given me the ability to express my ideas in a well-reasoned manner.”

His four-year involvement in PRIDE complemented his academic prowess. “A lot of my work with PRIDE has been changemaking. Harrop said that he has been working for “greater visibility of the LGBTQ+ community and to make sure they feel safe at USD.”

Inclusion isn’t just PRIDE’s mission alone. Harrop said he witnessed classmates “consistently work to celebrate the dignity and full personhood of one another all throughout campus and throughout our communities.”

“Our work for a more inclusive campus and world is only just beginning, but at USD, we’ve helped start important conversations, and we’ve charted a course for the university to follow as it strives to set the standard for a truly engaged and contemporary Catholic university. By responding to humanity’s urgent challenges that most resonate with us, we have demonstrated that a Catholic education is not a stuffy and antiquated set of rules, but rather a dynamic set of values grounded in how we interact with one another in our communities.”

In addition to PRIDE, Harrop also enjoyed the recreational sport of Ultimate Frisbee and studied abroad in Guatemala and Buenos Aires, Argentina, trips that fortified his decision to major in Spanish and international business. He also did an Honors Program 

“I see Spanish as a conduit to better connecting with people. I think it’s really important to speak other languages so you can connect with people on their own terms. Combining Spanish with International Business, I feel having skills in both makes me a more well-rounded person. I’d love to use my Spanish in some capacity after graduation. I also think a Spanish PhD program would be right for me, but I am still thinking about it.”

Between academic achievements, his work with and appreciation for faculty mentors, and the leadership skills he’s developed — he received the Dr. Judy Rauner Award for Social Justice at the UFMC Diversity Banquet — Harrop’s USD experience has been something special.

“We should proudly declare that our Catholic education has empowered us to proceed into the world respectfully, compassionately and empathetically, always striving to value and celebrate the inherent dignity of others.”

Anthony Shao: Appreciation for Others, Living in the Moment

Based on the academic work Anthony Shao put in, it’s easy to consider that his Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering valedictorian recognition is a celebration reserved for one.

But Shao, humbled by the honor, refused to take all the credit. “Having double majored in two fields, it’s a testament to not only things I’ve done, but also people I’ve worked with, such as Dr. (Mikaya) Lumori, Dr. (Ernie) Kim and virtually all engineering staff who’ve taught me. I give a special shout-out to (Theology and Religious Studies Professor) Dr. Joel Gruber who definitely revolutionized the way I’ve been thinking and the way I see the world, which is for the better.”

Upon his selection as valedictorian, Shao’s interest was mainly to keep it a secret from his Northern California-based parents. “My parents have always pushed me to be the very best since I was a young child and I know they’ll be proud, but I’ve always wanted to surprise them and show them I made the right decision to come to USD and that all my hard work paid off. That’s what they told me from Day One and I just wanted to see what their faces would look like when I’d walk onto the stage and give a speech.”

Shao’s secret, however, was leaked the day before graduation. “They were both very shocked, but mostly because I had directly told my mom I didn’t get it (as a joke). My dad likes to say he had an inkling, but I think he was just pulling my leg.”

Getting to see their son speak meant hearing him discuss “the essence of balancing open-mindedness with genuine curiosity,” and how one’s childhood makes an impact still today.

“A child’s mind works in a very interesting and beautiful way: no matter how many times you tell a child to do or not do something, they tend to want to see and feel everything for themselves. In this way, they can experientially understand what they’re told and validate their experience of the world. Perhaps, this curiosity is how we engineered our first views of the world and created our aspirations to attend college as an engineer,” Shao said.

He shared his feelings about today’s college student letting go of their child-like curiosity. “When we’re lost in the hustle and bustle of everyday life, the curious and experiential aspects of our lives are cast aside, eventually abandoned because we’re too busy trying to figure out what our next move in life is. Has the curiosity that once drove us to understand the world and eventually choose a profession been replaced by time wasted over worrying about grades rather than knowledge? Have we forgotten that it is essential to be curious enough to question the truths dictated to us so that we can live a life that makes each one of us happy? To be honest, I think losing that hunger to question the world frightens me more than the prospect of a 9-to-5 job.”

Shao credited his dual degree in engineering, USD’s liberal arts education — “The BS part of my degree, engineering, gives us a logical way of dissecting the world; when it is paired with the BA’s humanistic approach and a healthy sense of skepticism, we can recreate a child’s intellectual freedom” — and Dr. Gruber’s advice to carve a successful pathway.

“When I first came to campus, I thought I was set on the way I was going to study and the way I’d do my academics – solely getting the grades — but I realized after my junior year that with the course load and being in two different schools, that wasn’t going to fly. Dr. Gruber told me to ‘appreciate the moment.’ That was a key factor that turned it around for me. I stopped worrying about what would happen with tests and grades and just started appreciating the kind of learning I received. It then became how could I push that learning onto other people, to help others and be less adversarial in the engineering building.”

Being an engineering and business major helped Shao get internships. When it came time to do his engineering senior design project, Shao utilized his dual knowledge. “Having both opened a lot of opportunities and different schools of thought. I interned at General Atomics and HP (Hewlett-Packard). Having a business side to understand the logistics and understand the finance of a certain project, it’s definitely been important.”

Shao worked on an entrepreneurial engineering senior project with classmates Andrew Booth, Colby Bishop, Eric Greene and Jacques (Jack) Yeager in the 2016-17 school year. Today, Shao, Bishop and Yeager are still working on the project. They created a company, Darroch Medical Solutions, Inc., to create a product originally called the POD, that creates health status updates for medical practitioners to help bridge gaps in communication and improve efficiency.

Given his accomplishments and focus, one might think Shao’s USD experience has been all work and no play. Quite the contrary. His love for playing basketball — “a huge stress reliever” — turned into a unique opportunity.

He spent time as a practice player for the USD’s women’s basketball team, helping them prepare for games. “I play a lot of pick-up basketball and I do it to have fun and meet new people. But the most fun experience I’ve had was playing with the women’s team. It was great to be around a group of people who love the game of basketball just as much as I do. They’re stellar athletes, smart and talented and it brought out the best version of myself.”

Valedictorians do know best.

— Ryan T. Blystone


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