Savannah Mattox Named Valedictorian For Saint Mary's Class of 2018

Savannah Mattox, an academically outstanding student and a communications major, has been named valedictorian for the class of 2018 at Saint Mary’s College of California. The dynamic student leader, who has served as a resident advisor, a member of Saint Mary’s Bias Incident Response Team (BIRT), and a peer mentor for first-generation college students, will deliver her valedictory speech to more than 600 graduating seniors at the College’s Undergraduate Commencement on Saturday, May 26, 2018, at 9 a.m. at SMC Stadium at Saint Mary's College, 1928 Saint Mary's Road, Moraga, Calif. 94575.

Award-winning photographer and Saint Mary’s alumnus Michael Collopy, class of 1982, will deliver the commencement address for the College’s undergraduates. Collopy is widely recognized for his moving images documenting the faith works of Mother Teresa and his commissioned portraits of internationally known figures, including six U.S. presidents and 37 Nobel Peace Prize laureates.

A first-generation college student, Mattox attributes her academic success to the support she received from Saint Mary’s High Potential Program (HP). Dedicated to the success of students who will be the first in their families to graduate from college, HP’s educational support services include academic advising, mentoring, and an intensive two-week program focusing on college preparation and confidence building. “The holistic guidance, preparation, and advocacy I received during these two short weeks resulted in an invaluable mélange of educational, spiritual, and interpersonal growth that I would not have received in any other institution,” said Mattox.

Mattox, who grew up in Pittsburg, Calif., said her high school often failed to address the experiences of students who, like her, have a biracial heritage. However, she discovered a different approach at Saint Mary’s. After an academic “aha” moment in the January Term class “Check All That Apply: Being Multiracial and Multiethnic in the U.S.,” she decided to minor in ethnic studies. “That was my first time that I opened up a textbook and realized, oh, wait, there are mixed people like myself,” said Mattox. “It was extremely meaningful to see my identity in its entirety of being biracial being represented for the first time, and being explored in a classroom.” As she continued her educational explorations, excelling in coursework for her major and serving as a teaching assistant, Mattox’s potential as a scholar was recognized.

Communication Professor Scott Schönfeldt-Aultman, a faculty member who provided a recommendation for Mattox as valedictorian, noted he was impressed with the “theoretical sophistication and perspicuity Savannah demonstrated in her capstone thesis and in our dialogues, actually reflective of what I’d expect from a graduate student.”

Legacy Lee, assistant director of the College’s Intercultural Center, praised Mattox for her leadership and concern for other students. “Savannah is one of those students who dipped her toes in a little bit of everything on this campus. She has been an HP mentor, orientation leader, and a BIRT member, as well as an active member of several student organizations. And yet what stands out most to me about Savannah is simply her empathy toward her peers.”

In her valedictorian speech, Mattox hopes not only to prompt audience members to reflect about their time at Saint Mary’s, but also to serve as an agent of empowerment. “As much as we get right on this campus,” she said, recognizing the College’s commitment to an inclusive, just, and restorative community, “there’s also still a lot of work to be done.”

To serve as valedictorian, a Saint Mary’s senior is required to have a 3.75 GPA. Eligible candidates submit letters of recommendation, a resume detailing their involvement at the College, and an essay explaining their interest in the role and how the College’s Catholic and Lasallian mission and liberal arts tradition has affected them as a student. Of the class of 2018, 41 students had qualifying GPAs, and 23 submitted applications for consideration. A committee of faculty, staff, and students interviewed six finalists for the honor before choosing Mattox as this year’s valedictorian.

Mattox’s post-Saint Mary’s plans include serving in the Lasallian Volunteers program. Established in the early 1980s by the De La Salle Christian Brothers, Lasallian Volunteers respond creatively to the educational needs of the poor across the nation, and are eligible for graduate education opportunities after their volunteer service. Mattox also intends to pursue a doctoral degree and a career in education. “What I aspire to do is teach at the high school or undergraduate level, instructing and facilitating understanding around social justice issues.”