Katie Washington applied to Notre Dame on a whim.
“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