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Meet the 2021 student commencement speakers

The four student commencement speakers for 2021.

To adhere to current public health guidelines, Westminster College announced Feb. 17 it would divide its commencement into three different ceremonies. As a result, the college chose to increase the number of student commencement speakers to address the separate cohorts.  

The committee chose four speakers to represent the four schools: The School of Nursing and Health Sciences, the School of Education, the Gore School of Business and the School of Arts and Sciences. 

The first ceremony will be held Friday, May 7, with the other two on Saturday, May 8.

Each speaker applied in mid-March, submitting a draft of their speech to the committee along with a statement of intent. The pool of applicants then performed their draft virtually in front of the selection committee.

Some of the criteria judges based their decision on included their motivation to be the speaker, as well as speech content. Each speaker was expected to reflect on the mission, vision and values of Westminster while providing a look at the graduates’ future. 

Holly Howe will represent the School of Nursing and Health Sciences; Cami Mondeaux will represent the School of Arts and Sciences; Ashlyn Talcott will represent the Gore School of Business; and Pedro Rico will represent the School of Education. (Editor’s Note: Cami Mondeaux is the outgoing editor-in-chief of The Forum as of publication.) 

The Forum spoke with each of the commencement speakers to get a glimpse of their speech. Some of their answers have been lightly edited for conciseness and clarity. 

Holly Howe

School of Nursing and Health Science

Holly Howe is the speaker for the School of Nursing and Health Sciences ceremony on May 7. Howe is extremely fortunate to be chosen as a commencement speaker and hopes to speak to everyone in attendance in a meaningful way. (Photo courtesy of Holly Howe)

Holly Howe, a senior graduating with a degree in nursing, will be the first of the four speakers, as she addresses the School of Nursing and Health Sciences on May 7. Howe said she felt her speaking at commencement would give her the opportunity to speak on the unique circumstances she and her class endured in their senior year.  

Howe’s interview was conducted via email. 

Q: Can you give me some background information on why you chose to apply to speak at commencement and what you will talk about?

A: I am a nursing major, which is a really exciting time to be in this field of study and I feel very compelled to learn as much as I can while trying to balance other happenings in college life. 

I wanted a chance to speak at commencement because I really wanted to address my peers in a way that speaks to the uniqueness of what we have been through together. Honestly, it wasn’t a walk in the park, and it is kind of hard to explain to others unless you’re right there with them, so I want to bring that honesty to the front of our graduation.  

That being said, the most important topic I touch on in my speech is about the togetherness of not only our cohort, but the communities we’ve built at Westminster. 

Q: So when you submitted the application and found out you were selected what were your thoughts? How did you think you were going to approach speaking at commencement?

A: My thoughts on submitting the application were knotted together in nervousness, honesty and strength. I was nervous because I have never written a speech, so trying to organize all my feelings and thoughts to speak to a group of people that deserve everything and have been through so much placed some pressure on me. 

I also felt very strong presenting my speech to the committee because it covered everything I wanted to say in an honest way. It was especially neat because I could tailor it to our nursing and public health experience, and I felt like I could say exactly how my heart felt. 

I hope that comes across on graduation day. 

Q: Do you feel special that you were selected as one of the four commencement speakers being that there is usually only one?

A:  I feel extremely fortunate to be chosen to speak at commencement, and I know everyone who wanted to have amazing speeches as well. So, the biggest thing is I hope I can speak to everyone in attendance in a meaningful way.

Q: What have you been doing to prepare to speak at the commencement?

A: To prepare for commencement day I should probably be doing more, but for now, I’m just practicing how I am going to say a bunch of words strung together in a six-minute speech. 

Q: If you had to sum up your whole story what would be one word or two words you would use to sum your main objective?

A: It’s pretty difficult for me to try to sum up the last four years in a couple of words, so you might just have to listen to the speech through zoom. But I would say the main objective I want to get across is that things happen in our lives, but the biggest things that happen to us are the people who surround us. 

And we might be the biggest things that happen in their lives. The greatest thing I have received from my education is the people that are in my life, and I do not want a minute to go by where I do not recognize that, and those people don’t know it. 

Cami Mondeaux

School of Arts and Sciences

Cami Mondeaux is the commencement speaker for the School of Arts and Sciences ceremony May 8. Mondeaux looks forward to thanking her professors, advisers, and peers for pushing her into situations that helped force growth and effort into her success here at Westminster College. (Photo courtesy Cami Mondeaux)

Cami Mondeaux, a communication major with a minor in sociology, will kick off the ceremonies on May 8, speaking to the School of Arts and Sciences in the morning. In her speech, Mondeaux said she wants to be reflective of her experience at Westminster and how she has grown. 

Q: Can you give me some background why you chose to apply to speak at commencement and what you will talk about?

A: I decided to apply for commencement speaker because of how much I’ve changed and learned over the course of the last four years. When I started college as a communication major, and also in the Honors College, being in both of those requires you to speak a lot in class and just be super outgoing — which I am not. 

I’m pretty shy and introverted. And so my first two years of college, I basically looked for any excuse to not speak in front of crowds. I hated giving presentations. I was basically terrified to do that. 

But once I became editor-in-chief of The Forum, I had to learn how to speak my mind and actually be a leader and speak out in front of people — which I think changed my outlook on how I wanted to be remembered at Westminster.

Q: So when you submitted the application and found out you were selected what were your thoughts? How did you think you were going to approach speaking at commencement?

A: My first initial thoughts were half being very excited, but half being very nervous. Like I said, I am still pretty terrified of public speaking. And it’s been a while since I’ve actually spoken in front of people because everything is over Zoom these days. 

So, I’m still a little bit nervous and it doesn’t totally feel real yet. But I think Westminster is going to give every commencement speaker a mentor to work with to help prepare you for that day. So I think I will be prepared by the time the day actually comes. 

But when I first found out, I was like, ‘Oh, this is pretty cool.’ Being a college commencement speaker is not something everybody gets to do. 

So I’m honored that they chose me, but I’m also like, public speaking still freaks me out. But it just looks like a challenge and a good way to get some closure on graduating.

Q: Do you feel special that you were selected as one of the four commencement speakers being that there is usually only one and why?

A: I feel honored that Westminster chose me as one of their commencement speakers. Attending this school for the last four years has been so impactful and I’m so thankful for everything I’ve learned and for everyone who has poured their time and effort into my success. 

Comparing who I was on the first day of freshman orientation to who I am today — it’s completely different. But it’s different in the best way possible. If I had gone to another school, I’m sure I could’ve gotten away with never speaking up in class or passing by as an anonymous student. 

But here, they don’t let you. I sometimes joke that I didn’t step outside of my comfort zone — I was pushed. My professors and advisers pushed me into situations that forced growth and development, and I honestly can’t thank them enough. 

So, being chosen as one of the commencement speakers for a school that I love with my entire heart — it’s truly an honor. 

Q: What have you been doing to prepare to speak at the commencement?

A: Honestly, I haven’t thought about it too much because of the nerves (laughs). But, I’ve been looking over my speech to make some changes and update it to reflect on our collective experience rather than just my own. 

Q: If you had to sum up your whole story what would be one word or two words you would use to sum your main objective?

A: Closure. I think that’s one thing that everybody wants when they graduate. 

I know a lot of people in the class of 2020 did not get closure because of the COVID-19 pandemic. I know this year has been really weird for seniors, where it almost feels like we are trying to get closure in the same ways that people before us did. 

But it’s not the same, because we did spend the majority of our senior year online and we don’t get the same celebration as years prior, similar to the class of 2020. I think it’s been a while since graduates have been able to get a sense of closure when graduating, so I hope to give that to my fellow classmates. 

Ashlyn Talcott

Gore School of Business

Ashlyn Talcott is the commencement speaker for the Gore School of Business ceremony May 8. Talcott said speaking at commencement is something that she’s long valued because of her pride in attending this school. (Photo courtesy Ashlyn Talcott)

Ashlyn Talcott, a double major in business management and finance, will speak during the joint ceremony of the Gore School of Business and the School of Education on the evening of May 8.. According to Talcott, Westminster College has always been her dream college. Speaking at commencement was something she’s long valued simply because of her passion and pride in attending this school.

Talcott’s interview was conducted via email. 

Q: Basically can you give me some background information on what’s your major, why you chose to apply to speak at commencement and what you will talk about?

A: A little bit about myself: I am currently 20 years old. I am double majoring in Business Management and Finance (both BS). Technically, I am a third year – but after coming in with concurrent credit from high school, maxing out credits each semester from 16-18, and taking summer classes every year, I have been able to graduate a full year early – and feel so lucky to do so. 

The reason I chose to apply to give a speech at commencement was simply due to my passion and pride in Westminster College. This college is a home to me, so much that I am choosing to stay here and complete an MBA. 

Westminster College was always my dream school. That being said, I used to doubt the reality of my attendance due to my financial upbringing. However, it was the Griffin Grant that came into effect my very first year that changed my reality and landed me here. 

I take every day at Westminster with gratitude and enjoyment. The greatest reasons I chose to apply to give a speech are: To create a connection amongst the audience based on the brilliance of Westminster; to acknowledge the hardships of the past year, but counter that with inspiration and advice; and truly provide the graduating students with a moment or reflection and nostalgia for their past years at this college. 

And personally, I want to share light on my fondness of the college and my experiences at Westminster. 

Q: So when you submitted the application and found out you were selected what were your thoughts? How did you think you were going to approach speaking at commencement?

A: After a rushed application and speech writing process (due to me missing the original application email), as well as an unnerving audition, I really tried to stay humble and content with whatever the outcome came to be. 

I remember calling my mom right after the audition, gleaming. I told her that I felt amazing about the audition; and whether I got selected or not, I felt proud of myself. It was a few days after this when I got the call from Oliver. 

I answered, nervously, and he informed me that I had been chosen. I could barely contain my excitement. I probably spewed out a million “Wow! Thank You!” comments just out of pure shock.

I knew going into this application process that there were going to be a magnitude of worthy students and speeches. The biggest feeling I felt when I was told I got selected was appreciation. I felt, and still feel really, really lucky to be selected. 

I always knew that my approach to speaking at the commencement would be genuine. I would speak from the heart, write words that felt authentic, strive to create connection, and do the best that I can. 

Q: If you had to sum up your whole story what would be one word or two words you would use to sum your main objectives?

A: The theme of the entire speech I am delivering includes the following two words: passion and resilience. 

Q: Do you feel special that you were selected as one of the four commencement speakers being that there is usually only one?

A: Commencement this year is very different compared to ceremonies in the past. With that, I am excited that there are four speakers this year.

For one, it gave me a greater chance to be selected to speak. Second, I love the idea that each speech will represent a specific school within the college. I get to represent the business school. I think that this is a unique addition to the ceremony. 

With this, I get to use the opportunity to cater and personalize my speech more towards the school in which I learned and with those students whom I worked closely with. It feels very personal, and I am excited. 

Pedro Rico

School of Education

Pedro Rico is the commencement speaker for the School of Education ceremony on May 8. Rico is a proud successor of Immigrant parents and is the first in their family to have obtained a bachelor’s degree. (Photo courtesy of Pedro Rico)

Pedro Rico will also speak during the joint ceremony of the Gore School of Business and the School of Education. Rico said they plan to speak from the heart to share the collective experience of graduating during the pandemic.

Rico’s interview was conducted via email. 

Q: Can you give me some background information on what’s your major, why you chose to apply to speak at commencement and what you will talk about?

A: I am a nonbinary Xicano [and] I am proud successor of Immigrant parents. I transferred from Salt Lake Community College and I will be the first in my family to have obtained a bachelor’s degree. I will be graduating with a degree in Education Policy and Advocacy. 

Q: When you submitted the application and found out you were selected, what were your thoughts? How did you think you were going to approach speaking at commencement?

A: Honestly, it has been a struggle for me this year and when I saw that email about registering for graduation it was difficult for me to even think about it — let alone speak at graduation. But I told myself, ‘You know, there isn’t always going to be a second go [at this] and the worst thing that could happen is that they tell me I wasn’t what they wanted.’

So I decided to apply because I believe that not only would it conclude my educational journey but also I could provide my various identities and my unique perspective to the commencement. 

What I will be speaking on is our shared collective experience during the pandemic, identity, community, loss, ending cycles, implementing systems of mutual care and re-imagining a world where many worlds fit.

Q: Do you feel special that you were selected as one of the four commencement speakers being that there is usually only one and why?

A: My immediate reaction to the news that I was selected to be one of four speakers was shock, cause I didn’t think I deserved it (imposter syndrome), but I stopped myself that way of thinking. 

I took in a deep breath, and said to myself that I am grateful and honored to have been chosen from a great pool of wonderful candidates. At first I was completely lost. I was also afraid, because someone is giving you a soapbox to stand on that box you’re on the way I perceive it has a lot of responsibility and to be ready to be held accountable by my peers. 

For me it is a scary experience, because I tend to be someone who enjoys being in conversation rather than experiencing the spotlight. Again, I had to stay calm and speak from my own experience and attempt to have a heart-to-heart with the class of 2021. 

Special? Not at all. I suppose I didn’t put much thought into that but being grateful was my immediate response to being picked. 

Q: What have you been doing to prepare to speak at the commencement?

A: Well I have been trying to stay on top of my classes so I can graduate (laughs), I’ve also been working on my mental, physical and spiritual health, and ensuring that I’m fortifying and making meaningful relationships. 

As for being prepared, I have been revising and reciting my speech and most importantly listening to my heart.

Q: If you had to sum up your whole story what would be one word or two words you would use to sum your main objective?

A: Being human, I suppose. There are so many complexities to being alive that I often wonder if we know what it means to be human? 

That has been my journey and will continue to be my journey. I want to create spaces for us to be our most authentic selves, experience the depths of our humanity. I think that is crucially needed in a world that is extremely dehumanizing. 

A world that asks so much of our labor, our creativity, our attention, our time, our bodies, mind and spirit. The culture of isolation and hypercompetitiveness prevents us from forming meaningful relationships to understand one another, re-examining our relationships with nature, or to express love and care. 

I suppose a lot of this has been formed by my [experiences] with many -ism’s in my lifetime, and of growing up in a single parent household where my mother didn’t have the luxury and or privilege to parent and impart her cultural wisdom.

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Reme Torbert
Reme Torbert is a senior communication major at Westminster College. He is specializing in video broadcasting and journalism, which meets the criteria for him wanting to be a sports analyst. He wants to talk sports and wants to use his passion about sports to inform others each day the ups and down you will go through as a athlete that can teach you things in life other skills can’t. He plays for the basketball team at Westminster College, and hopes to play professional basketball. After basketball is over, he hopes to take what he has learned about communications to the next level and make it a career.

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