Thursday, May 20, 2010
Now we hear words from the University's first ever Black Valedictorian herself.
Warmest widest welcome to all of the newest members to our BA family! Go Irish!
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Monday, May 10, 2010
“For me, Notre Dame wasn’t really even on the radar at all,” she recalls. “I wanted to stay in Indiana because I got a lot of in-state scholarships that I thought would be important to keep. I applied to Notre Dame, honestly, at the very last minute. One of my teachers had to send an apology for my recommendation letter actually being late. It was her fault, but everything was just thrown together at the last minute.”
Her “accidental” Notre Dame career began more than four years ago, yet there is nothing accidental about her becoming the university’s first African American valedictorian in its nearly 168 years.
Washington, who holds a 4.0-grade point average, stands on top of the academic heap with an awe-inspiring focus and love for Notre Dame. It was a love that grew during her time on campus, but one that she recognized almost immediately when she visited during Spring Visitation weekend in 2006.
“What I found is that I just liked the people. I was really impressed by how welcomed I felt by the student host that I stayed with, and I felt like the alumni were really a family. I really felt the sense of community that is unique to Notre Dame. It existed on multiple levels. It existed in the academic aspect, as far as faculty members being willing to help students. I felt that it existed in student life, and even informally in the relationships I saw between people that I got a chance to hang out with. That’s why I decided.”
This fall, the Gary, Ind. native will head to Baltimore to pursue a dual M.D.-Ph.D. degree at Johns Hopkins University.
It’s no surprise that the biological sciences major and Catholic social tradition minor will follow in her family’s footsteps in the medical profession. Her father, Dr. William Washington, is a physician, mom Jean Tomlin-White is a registered nurse and of her three siblings, one is a registered nurse and another a physician in residency.
Like her father, who serves Gary’s poor, Washington intends to use her medical degree to serve the underserved.
“The goal of the dual degree training is to be able to put my training as a clinician and as a scientist to work to solve real problems. Research, with the goal of patient care in mind, and actually integrating the two. What we see in research a lot of the time is that the science is either way too far ahead of what people are doing in their practices, or it’s completely disjointed from what people need in their practices. Most importantly, I’m hoping to do some work that helps people in resource-poor settings, either internationally, or domestically.”
And, while the gravity of her achievement still hasn’t quite sunk in, Washington feels confident in her Notre Dame career and all that lies ahead in her inarguably bright future.
“I feel like I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing with my life, and to be 21 and be able to say that is a glorious feeling. It’s the best confirmation that I could possibly have.” – By Arienne Thompson '04
As the younger sister of four basketball-playing brothers and a student at St. Louis’ Immaculata and Cor Jesu, Niele Ivey Notre Dame Class of 2001 seemed fated to play basketball at a Catholic school. But it was her devotion to not only her sport, but to also to her values that allowed her to become a basketball star at the University of Notre Dame. Nearly ten years after stepping off of the court as a student-athlete, Niele reflects on her three seasons as an Assistant Coach at Notre Dame and how it was simply her destiny to be a Domer on both sides of the court.
The St. Louis native started playing basketball in the fourth grade mostly because she wanted to be like her four older brothers. The self-described tomboy remembers following her brothers everywhere.
“I would tag along with them to the park, at school, and especially the basketball court; which inevitably led to my deep love for the sport.”
After spending her entire academic career in Catholic schools — St. Louis’ Immaculata School and Cor Jesu Academy — Notre Dame seemed to be the natural next step for this Catholic school girl. But it was during a recruiting trip the weekend of the 1995 USC game that Niele knew for certain that Notre Dame was the one. She was impressed with the robust traditions of the school, its strong Catholic values and as to be expected, the excitement of a home football weekend.
“I was absolutely blown away by everything that Notre Dame had to offer—the Catholic character, the traditions, the most beautiful campus and of course the football,” she recalls. “I knew I had found my school at Friday night’s pep rally!”
What solidified Niele’s decision to come to Notre Dame was meeting the Head Coach of the Women’s’ Basketball Team, the legendary Muffet McGraw.
“Coach McGraw presented Notre Dame’s Women Basketball team as a family oriented program that worked tirelessly to uphold the standards and traditions of the University. And that aligned perfectly with my family values.”
Niele spent the next five years as a point guard for the Fighting Irish, learning invaluable lessons from Coach McGraw—a former point guard herself. In the spring of 2001, her dreams of playing professionally came true when the Indiana Fever chose her in the second round of the WNBA draft. After a successful career with in
Faced with the third knee surgery of her career, Niele contemplated retirement after playing professionally for five years. Well, true to form, that Notre Dame fate stepped in. Niele was watching ESPN one night, when she saw the announcement that Coquese Washington (then Notre Dame Assistant Coach) had accepted the Head Coach position at
“As the ticker flashed across my screen, Coach McGraw called to offer me the Assistant Coach position. To have her call me that quickly and to know that I was the person who she wanted was so amazing. It made me realize that choosing Notre Dame all those years ago really was the perfect decision.”
While Niele has enjoyed every opportunity that coaching has allowed her for the past three years, a few moments are particularly special to her.
“Recruiting Skylar Diggins from
Niele also counts the Lady Irish’s two Sweet Sixteen appearances (2007, 2010) as major moments in her coaching career.
However, the aspect of this new phase of her basketball career that truly stands out is the opportunity for Niele to give back to the program that shaped the person she is today.
“I take my job as a mentor and role model very seriously. I work hard to ensure that every workout and any advice I give is meaningful. I want them to have the same experience I had nine years ago to develop invaluable skills on the court, but also in the classroom. I am just so blessed to come back to the place where I became the woman, the student, the athlete that I am today.”
As I began working on my third newsletter as Communications Director for the Black Alumni Board, I was starting to feel comfortable in the process: develop feature idea, interview enthusiastic Black Alumnus, write a compelling piece that allows fellow Black Alum to stay connected to our Alma Mater, distribute. Well when I sat down to interview Cedric Strickland, current Notre Dame Freshman, my sacred process got a wake-up call.
Cedric, a pleasant First Year from Atlanta, spoke graciously of the efforts of the Notre Dame Alumni—specifically the Notre Dame Club of Atlanta—who helped him and his family get to campus in the Fall, and even provided him with those Freshman year essentials—sheets, towels, books and even a little spending money. “I made just one or two phone calls and was immediately flooded with support from people offering to help. I was so shocked because I was just looking for a ride to campus.”
When I asked him why he chose Notre Dame, he praised the University’s recruiting process, which he described as thorough, yet genuine.
“I was impressed when I received a call from a current student whom I had met during my Spring Visitation weekend,” Cedric recalls. “The conversation was unforced and sincere. I didn’t feel like she was calling to ‘make the sale,’ but instead was truly interested in me as a student.”
“Compared to the other schools I applied to, Notre Dame was not expert in just one field, but had top-notch programs across the boards,” Cedric explained. “I have a strong interest in math and science, but I wanted the flexibility to pursue other subjects; as well as the possibility to change my major once or twice, but still get an outstanding education.”
I was practically beaming as I listened to this Questbridge Scholarship Recipient, Gates Millennium Scholar, speak of the reasons he had chosen Our Lady’s University; and of how Alumni, strangers in every way but Notre Dame, rallied together to support our newest member of the family.
The cold splash of reality came when Cedric delved deeper and analyzed his first year. First a pause, then a list of the negatives: ridiculously cold weather, small-town syndrome, glaring lack of diversity and courses that seemed to move on fast-forward. It was a typical ND litany, but I was waiting for the positive aspects I’d enjoyed: quad-specific dorm spirit, epic football games, omelets made to order in South Dining Hall, that one professor who stimulates intellectual curiosity and friends who seem heaven-sent. I asked if he was happy he had chosen Notre Dame.
“I’m not unhappy. I’m just still trying to process of all of these changes. It’s just been hard to make any sort of connection between my life at home and my life here,” he admitted.
While Cedric’s responses were not completely without cheer, I recognize that we each have a unique Notre Dame experience and I long for this talented young man to see his next three years on campus as ones to enjoy, not simply endure. Ultimately, I want Cedric to be able to remove the question mark from Love Thee Notre Dame.
So, I call on the entire Black Alumni family to band together once more, but not for monetary support. This effort is far more significant than that. We need to come together to show this future alumnus, and other current students, that no matter how stony our path, the Notre Dame experience is exceptional, breathtaking and, above all, worth every struggle.
During the Black Alumni Board of Directors’ Spring meeting this past March, we celebrated the academic achievements of nine undergraduates who were awarded the prestigious Frazier Thompson scholarship. Help us commend this talented group of future Black Alumni!
Vanessa Adjei is from
Chandler Brooks is a
*Blair Carlin came to Notre Dame from
*Isabel Chirase, from
Cora Dayon, a
*Lillian Dixon-Sudduth came to Notre Dame from
Janice James, a native of
Kristin Moore is a legacy student who hails from