Undergraduate Commencement 2023: Ready to ‘Make a Difference in the World’ by Living out Saint Mary’s Values

And Forbes 30 Under 30 Honoree Kalina Bryant ’14 delivers a message of empowerment to the Gael community. Watch highlights and see a photo gallery.

by Mike Janes, Office of Marketing & Communications | May 23, 2023
On an unseasonably cool and crisp May morning this past Saturday, nearly 500 undergraduate seniors at Saint Mary’s College joyfully walked the Commencement stage to collect their diplomas while proud family members and supporters filled the Saint Mary’s Stadium bleachers and cheered them on.

The grads were clad in academic robes and mortarboards—some decorated with messages of gratitude to family and others. They earned bachelor of science and bachelor of arts degrees from the School of Liberal Arts, School of Science, and the School of Economics and Business Administration. Provost Corey Cook served as master of ceremonies for the morning, making sure to thank the College’s staff, students, and volunteers for their important roles. The invocation was delivered by Caitlin Schweller ’23, who earned her degree in Kinesiology with a focus on Health Promotion. The ceremony was livestreamed for those unable to attend.

“Struck by the sense of community”

A standout among the ceremony’s many speakers was Valedictorian Isabella Santavicca ’23, who delighted her fellow graduates and others in the crowd with her inspirational, humble message. 

“As soon as I arrived on Saint Mary's campus with my dad, we were both struck by the sense of community that permeated from the College,” Santavicca said. “We met countless people who were welcoming and friendly, and it was clear that this was a place that cared about its students.”

Isabella speaking at podium
Isabella Santavicca, 2023 Valedictorian, spoke about the caring and sense of community she experienced during her time at Saint Mary's, dating back to her initial visit to the campus with her father.  / Photo by Gerry Serrano

During her time at Saint Mary’s, Santavicca captained the Women’s Soccer team and served as president of the Psychology Club, among many other activities. In her Commencement remarks, she graciously thanked all those who nurtured that sense of community for her and other students during their academic journeys, including “members of the Board, our wonderful professors, the supportive Christian Brothers, the hard-working Saint Mary’s staff, the coaches, the proud families and friends, and everyone else who played a role” in making it possible for her and her peers to cross the stage.

She gave a specific shout-out to Jennifer Herzog, Assistant Dean of Students, by telling a story about the personal attention Herzog gave to Santavicca and her father during their initial campus visit several years ago. 

“I remember thinking that this woman probably has better things to be doing than chit-chatting with my loud Italian dad, yet she was taking the time to talk with the father of a student she didn’t even know yet. As we left campus that day, my dad turned to me and said, ‘You made the right decision.’”

Turning to the graduates, she concluded, “I hope that as we move forward, we continue to engage with the world around us, learn from the communities we join, and challenge the preconceived ideas of who we are. Let us make a difference in the world by living out the values we've learned here at Saint Mary's.”

A Message of Empowerment

Featured Commencement speaker Kalina Bryant ’14 returned to campus and offered remarks centered on empowerment, trust, and openness to opportunity, framed around her own life journey and recent work as a successful tech entrepreneur and influencer. Bryant is the founder of UnapologeTECH and was last year named to Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list.

Kalina speaks at Commencement
In her 2023 Commencement message, Kalina Bryant '14 reminded undergraduates that “empowerment means recognizing your strengths and abilities, believing in yourself, and taking action to achieve your goals." / Photo by Gerry Serrano

“Transforming one's self is a constant process of growth, learning, and adaptation. It's the process of evolving into the best version of one's self,” said Bryant. “Empowerment means recognizing your strengths and abilities, believing in yourself, and taking action to achieve your goals. You have the power to create the life you want, and it starts with believing in yourself.”

Drawing on her own experience while growing up in East Oakland and later making her mark in the highly competitive tech industry, Bryant noted that transformation isn’t easy and requires hard work and dedication.

“It requires you to leave your comfort zone, face your fears, and embrace change,” she said. But the reward is worth it. As you transform, you will discover new strengths, talents, and passions you never knew you had.”


“Grad Grounds” Delight Families, Students Alike

As the morning’s gray skies melted into an afternoon sun, scores of graduates and their supporters made way to their Grad Grounds tents, with catered and picnic lunches, beverages galore, games, live music, and a highly festive and celebratory atmosphere.

Grad Grounds, informally known as “plot parties,” remains one of the most unique and anticipated features of Saint Mary’s Undergraduate Commencement. The tradition goes back decades and turns the campus into an extended celebration for friends and family of the new graduates.

From the whole entire Saint Mary’s community: Congratulations, Class of 2023! 


The Day in Pictures: Undergraduate Commencement 2023

WATCH MORE: Recordings of the 2023 Saint Mary's Undergraduate and Graduate and Professional Studies Commencement Ceremonies.