Saint Mary’s College Valedictorian an Inspiration for First-Generation Students

Shelby Solomon, SMC Class of 2013 ValedictorianWhen she first arrived on the campus of Saint Mary's College of California during her freshman year, psychology major Shelby Solomon admits she was shy and a bit withdrawn. During freshman orientation, she hid out in the bathroom instead of talking with the other students. But even then, the Pittsburg native had her mind set on being the college’s best student.

"Honestly, I had always wanted to be a valedictorian," she says. Although the 21-year-old says she believed she could do it, she didn't think she would do it. “It takes a lot of work, and it's not just your GPA,” said Solomon, who graduated with a 3.945 grade point average. “It's a combination of scholarship and service. You have to have the grades, but they look at your service, your resume, where you worked on campus, where you volunteered, because it’s important that you give back and that you exhibit leadership.”

Even after she submitted her application for the honor, she was far from confident. So, when the Undergraduate Academics Vice Provost contacted her with the news that she was the valedictorian of Saint Mary’s 2013 class, she couldn’t contain herself. "I was ecstatic. I was yelling into the phone, just really, really flabbergasted!" Her next phone call was to her mother, and Solomon says their conversation was interrupted several times because of uncontrollable tears. Solomon’s accomplishment was a family achievement as well.

The goal of becoming Saint Mary’s top scholar wasn’t born out of a competitive need to beat her peers academically, it was spurred by a desire to prove that she, and other first-generation students like her, not only belonged in college but could excel there too. When Saint Mary’s 150th commencement ceremony ends on May 25, 2013, she will be the first person in her family, on both her mom’s and dad’s side, to graduate from college.

Her mom and dad are far from wealthy. Her father now works as a part-time employee at Home Depot after a long period of unemployment, and her mother works as a receptionist for the city of Concord. She says her family income is only about $60,000 a year, which is around $10,000 more than the cost to attend Saint Mary’s for a year. However, a Class of 1950 Millenium endowed scholarship, grants and federal work-study funds have offset the costs that her parents can’t cover.

“I am so lucky and so grateful,” she said. 

When she gives her speech on graduation day, it will be, in part, for her parents, who have sacrificed for her to go to private school and have done without so she can have an opportunity. And she has made the most of that opportunity. While at the college, she was president of the Psychology Club, a member of the Psi Chi Honors Society, a Peer Council student advisor, an active volunteer and a member of the school’s boxing club. 

Solomon's academic journey won't end with the Commencement ceremony, though. She is pursuing her dream of becoming a forensic psychologist and has been accepted into a clinical psychology Ph.D. program. 

By Michael McAlpin
Media Relations Director