Rachel Hetrick, senior graphic design major and a Spanish minor, was chosen as the valedictorian for the class of 2023. Hetrick says her four years at Cabrini have been a growth-filled journey filled with many friends and faculty.
Jeanne Komp, professor of graphic design and visual and performing arts department chair, said, “Rachel is a fantastic student. She pretty much came to school just getting the most out of it. I remember when she came and was looking at schools in open house. She was just really super engaged. I enjoy when she just pops in and chats about school or random stuff.”
As her senior year comes to an end, Hetrick reminisced about her time at Cabrini.
Looking down memory lane
Q: Why did you decide to attend Cabrini?
A: “That’s interesting because I didn’t love high school. So, I didn’t really want to go to college. But my mom was like, ‘We’re going to visit schools.’ Cabrini was the first place I visited where I thought I could actually live here and see myself going here. I just felt confident that I could be okay here, which I didn’t feel with a lot of other places.”
Q: What extracurricular activities do you enjoy?
A: “The biggest thing I spend most of my time with would be the rowing team. I walked on as a freshman and now I am the team leader. It’s been really cool, and I love my team. I’m also involved with our design club, the Hidden Opponent, which is for student athletes and mental health; the Collegiate Recovery Program; and the rock climbing club that I started with two of my friends during freshman year. Previously, I did a bunch of volunteering, tutoring, and was classroom coach.”
Q: Talk about your experiences with faculty here at Cabrini?
A: “The professors at Cabrini are the best part. My advisor Komp is the chair of our department and I’ve grown pretty close to her. She’s been great support and always encouraging us to go forward and be very individualized in the classroom, which is really nice. Also, Pat Brown, who mentors our Collegiate Recovery, which is a group of people who struggle with their mental health and come together to just talk about it. He was pivotal in my Cabrini experience. There were some other professors who made my experience so unique and good.”
Q: What were some hardships through the years and how did you overcome them?
A: “In my junior year, I was in a crisis and going through a lot with my mental health. The professors at Cabrini were so understanding because I needed to continue being a student but also needed to go to treatment. I will never forget the way they all responded, supported me and kept me here as a student, even though there was so much going on in my life.”
Q: What was your most positive experience?
A: “To sum it all up, the thing about Cabrini is that you can be a part of more than one community at the same time. So, I think about rowing and my team. They are one of the biggest motivators and make it worth it everyday to wake up knowing they’re going to be there. But also, friends in my major, that’s been so cool to have a close group of friends that we know are going to be there for each other and all going through the same thing. With different communities on campus, you learn how to advocate. I can’t walk 30 feet without seeing someone I know, and I love that.”
Q: What are your post-graduation plans?
A: “I don’t know quite yet but I know I’m probably going to work and stay in this area for a little bit. There’s a lot of possibilities and I know right now graphic design is my thing. But in the future I want to do more in helping and serving people.”
Q: How do you feel about being the valedictorian for the class of 2023?
A: “I was speechless. It was a phone call from Dr. Boyd and she said, ‘Congratulations, you’ve been selected for valedictorian.’ All I said was, ‘What?’ I was genuinely so surprised. I knew that I was a finalist, my speech went well and I was really passionate about what I had to share. But I just didn’t think I would get it. When receiving all these super kind emails from different people at the university saying all these good and kind things, I was so humbled. It’s nice because I see myself as someone who is really passionate about the people around me. I want them to know that I care about them but it’s very humbling to be recognized and a reminder that people are paying attention.
Q: “What is a word of advice that you could give students on their journey toward graduation?
A: “When I was a freshman and through junior year, I was struggling with my mental health. I never thought about graduation, and I never would have thought that I’m going to graduate and be valedictorian. If you told me that back then, I probably would’ve laughed because I was just struggling and thinking that I just need to get through the next day. Thankfully, I’m not in that mindset anymore because I’ve had treatment and support. Taking care of our mental health is so important and that is why I just want to advocate for it all the time. Going through the years, I felt like a lot of times, I was trying to keep it all together and holding my breath. Something that I tell my teammates and the people around me is your best is good enough. I think that would be my biggest advice for anyone; you don’t have to fake it because there’s more to life than just trying to pretend.”
This interview was edited for clarity and brevity.
Hetrick will give her valedictorian speech at Cabrini’s 2023 commencement ceremony, Sunday, May 21.